No matter where Anita Finnegan has been, she says, “Art has always come with me.”
A painting by artist and leukemia patient Anita Finnegan appears in the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s calendar. (Photo by p.cunningham)
Her muse accompanied her to the second grade, where her birds’ feet sculptures won first place at the science fair, and to the Pennsylvania Ballet Company, where she began dancing as a child. 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 joined her at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where she helped 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.
“They told me I was 98 percent leukemic and had 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 under the care of Eileen Smith, M.D., associate director of clinical research in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.
In June 2007, Finnegan underwent hematopoietic cell transplantation, receiving healthy blood stem cells from a donor to replace her diseased bone marrow. Following months in the hospital fighting severe complications, Finnegan moved to Hope and Parson Village, where she continued to recover for more than a year.
She loved the tranquil environment and having her husband spirit her around the gardens in her wheelchair.
“Ron and I have been to hell and back — side by side,” she said. “We lost everything except life, but we are here and have a chance to rebuild.”
Her husband brought her prism-color markers, so she could continue her art, and Smith 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 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 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, Smith 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."