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Painting the canvas of hope and healing at City of Hope Newport Beach

Frank Di Bella is no stranger to challenging times.

After being diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer in 2011, he was initially given three to four months to live, until he received a second opinion from Sumanta K. Pal, M.D., assistant clinical professor, Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and co-director of the Kidney Cancer Program at City of Hope.

Ten years later, and he tributes his second chance at life to Dr. Pal and the staff at City of Hope. Di Bella has since formed the Let’s Be Frank Committee, a group devoted to raising meaningful funds to support Dr. Pal’s breakthrough research efforts at City of Hope.

As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020, all events came to a standstill, including the “Let’s Be Frank About Cancer” Gala–an annual charity event that has raised over $7 million for City of Hope. Di Bella and the committee looked for more—and creative ways—to support City of Hope.

Throughout the global pandemic, City of Hope Newport Beach, the first phase of Orange County’s regional cancer care network, continued to be a second home for many patients. The location was missing one piece to make it feel more like home – art.

A Drip of Fate

Di Bella and Donna Porter, a member of the Let’s Be Frank Committee, sought to add beauty and a healing essence to the building, and he knew exactly who could visually express this and bring it to life.

As the final touches were placed at City of Hope Newport Beach, Di Bella reached out to Leonardo Cruz Melo, a longtime friend of Di Bella who is a self-taught contemporary abstract artist and Orange County resident of more than 25 years, with an opportunity to lend his talent and artistic gift to the building.

Cruz Melo began creating drip paintings, a form of fluid art, as a side business in the last several years. Fluid art entails pouring paint on a blank canvas and strategically moving it around, without using a paint brush.

In a way, a cancer journey resembles this style of art – both presenting a challenge for control. Cruz Melo has learned to embrace this challenge in his art. It is his philosophy and the way he lives his life.

“I only have so much control of my life, as well as I only have so much control of my painting or my art. I can do whatever I can for that drop of paint not to go that way, but if for whatever reason it decides to go that way, I have to embrace it,” Cruz Melo explained. “The more I learned about City of Hope and the fact that they were coming to Orange County and also having a working relationship with Frank, I wanted to help somehow.”

As Di Bella guided him through the infusion center on the second floor of City of Hope Newport Beach, Cruz Melo reflected on his personal experiences with cancer and knew his creation for this space needed to be special.

A Second Chance for Hope

Cruz Melo’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in (year) – an over an overwhelming and life-altering fear that had become a reality for his family. Fortunately, the cancer was found in an early stage and was able to be treated.

Di Bella and Cruz Melo shared a vision to give patients coping with a cancer diagnosis and treatment the same hope they were given, a hope for a second chance at not only surviving, but at living. Cruz Melo hopes that his art ultimately allows patients to feel a sense of comfort, brings a moment of stillness during the chaos and inspires patients to remain hopeful.

Cruz Melo created five dynamic drip paintings, one being a triptych, that embodied peace and hope through his technique and color palette. The artwork pieces were donated towards to the Newport Beach facility through a joint donation by Cruz Melo and Porter. 

A Place for Hope and Healing

It is evident the transformative capacity art can have on emotions, and Cruz Melo reassured just how important it is to utilize and layer the appropriate colors. He selected a soothing color palette consisting of blues, yellows, and greens to complement the Newport Beach interior. As he creates his pieces, he recognizes how art reflects a person’s life in that moment. He is mindful about his work and creates his art while in a mind state of peace to project this on the canvas.

“It is so important to create an environment of hope and healing through art, especially for anyone that's going through cancer treatment. Art has healing properties and can provide beauty and peace in a time of change and fear. It brightens the atmosphere and our patient’s mood and outlook as they walk through the building,” said Melissa Sadikoff, Social Worker Program Specialist at City of Hope Newport Beach.

Cruz Melo, Porter and Di Bella’s generosity and talents will serve as an inspirational reminder to the many patients at City of Hope Newport Beach that this is a place for hope and healing, and a canvas for peace even in the most challenging of times.

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