No matter where Anita Finnegan has been, she says, “Art has always come with me.”
Her muse accompanied her to the second grade, where her birds’ feet sculptures won first place at a science fair. And it joined her at the Pennsylvania Ballet Company, where she began dancing as a child.
A painting by artist and leukemia patient Anita Finnegan appears in the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s calendar. (Photo by p.cunningham)
It went with her to the University of Southern California, where she earned a theatre degree, and to Hollywood where she landed jobs as an actress and voice-over artist. It even tagged along when she worked at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, helping thousands through voiceovers, community education and crisis intervention.
It also followed her to City of Hope, buoying her spirit during long days of treatment and convalescence for acute myeloid leukemia.
In summer 2006, Finnegan was struck by symptoms she first dismissed as a “bad flu.” Her husband, Ron Finnegan, took her to an emergency room where she immediately received a blood transfusion.
Physicians told her that her bloodstream was filled with cancerous cells and she had only 12 to 24 hours left to live, said Finnegan.
She underwent months of chemotherapy and fought life-threatening infections but managed to fend off the leukemia and stabilize. She then transferred to City of Hope, and in June 2007, she underwent hematopoietic cell transplantation. The procedure used healthy blood stem cells from a donor to replace her diseased bone marrow.
Following months in the hospital fighting severe complications, she moved to housing on City of Hope’s campus, where she continued to recover for more than a year. She loved the tranquil environment.
Her husband brought her prism-color markers so she could continue her artwork, and she let her creative muse guide her during recovery. Her doctor encouraged her to submit her drawings for the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2011 calendar. “Hope on Angel Wings” — her homage to caregivers, family and friends — was chosen for the month of January.
“The angel wings are everyone who lifted us, kept us safe, loved and cared for us and made us well,” Finnegan said. “We turned ourselves over to them to carry us.”
She hopes soon to meet one particular “angel” — her stem cell donor.
“She is a great gal from Chicago, and we talk on the phone all the time,” said Finnegan. “She is my twin sister I never had. I love her always and forever.”
Finnegan believes that her own “really strong spirit” has helped her defeat death many times, including a car accident in England decades ago.
She also credits her husband, her physician and other caregivers for helping her through the dark days. A more recent source of joy is Tito, an energetic poodle she rescued from a shelter.
“Life’s not perfect, but is it ever?” she mused. “The fact that I have life is the most amazing miracle. Ron, Tito and I are finding our way to better days.”
City of Hope’s Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center periodically offers sessions in the creative arts, such as painting, to patients and their caregivers. Visit the center’s online calendar for a listing of upcoming offerings.