Ellen Mayer relates her story of how she battles GIST with the help of art. From the time she was a young girl, Ellen Mayer always loved to draw, this she knew. What she did not know is how much that love would help her in her battle with GIST.
She started out as any child might, drawing sketches on bits of paper. “We didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted paper, my mother worked in an office and would bring me back pieces from work.” In the seventh grade, Ellen was placed in a special art class and she realized that this was what she wished to do with her life.
After high school, Ellen went on to become a secretary but confesses, “I was a really terrible secretary.” She then moved on to a job as a fashion illustrator in Manhattan, “I used to say, ‘I can’t believe they’re paying me for this.’” As she got older, Ellen realized what she wanted to do, “If you don’t do what you are passionate about, you’re not going to be happy.” She even went back to school at age 49 and earned a degree in graphic arts.
When Ellen was diagnosed with GIST, her painting took on a whole new form.
“After I was diagnosed and had my surgery. I was in a lot of pain and I was really focused on my art. I started getting shows and my paintings became deeper. It just evolved and since then [art] has been very important to me in coping with GIST. I feel more passionate about it.”
Not only does painting help Ellen to express her feelings about GIST, it also helps her to forget. “The moments that I’m so busy with all the pressure of art shows is when I don’t think of having GIST.”
Ellen likens her work to those of Edvard Munch, her favorite artist. “My paintings are a lot like his, very strong, dark, fast type of work.”
While painting is her prime form of expression, Ellen also uses poetry to express her feelings. In one poem she describes getting a CT scan; Ellen changes from being comical to nervous. In the beginning of the poem she comments on the “guck” she must drink, “Today I get to pick between banana-flavored or berry.” At a later part she comments, “I start to remember the reason I am here for,” and towards the end she writes, “My smile is low now because I just want to go now.” This particular poem creates a window into the world of scans and aided Ellen in getting through them.
Besides the arts, Ellen finds support in numerous places. “At first it was the GIST groups, [they are] still my support system when I get scared or have questions. The sites are like a security blanket; a year ago I was not happy about something and when I left the hospital I immediately called Norman Scherzer, LRG executive director, and that was very important to me.” She also finds the love and support she needs from her husband, Konrad; her two children and the rest of her family and friends.
Above all else, painting is the focus of her life and Ellen intends to see it all the way through. “I hope that one day I will be famous, in a museum, like Munch,” she adds, “and I want to see my grandchildren.”
Through painting and poetry, friends and family, good times and bad, Ellen continues to fight for that peace of mind she gets when not burdened by thoughts of GIST. “Am I still scared? Yes. Am I completely thinking it will never come back? No. I will live my life as best as I can, GIST will not control my life… I feel like I have much more to give. I can’t go anywhere yet.”