As a young girl, Janet Whitehead watched with her father the film Mutiny on the Bounty, an experience that fostered a lifelong fascination with tall ships.
Years later, a tall ship has sailed out of the heart of a fellow artist, propelled by winds of compassion, community and hope.
Whitehead is a well-known Kamloops artist and instructor who has helped many other artists — she calls them “muses” — find their creative inspiration. In March, she was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer and, with her creative coaching enterprise sidelined out of necessity, continues to undergo chemotherapy to prevent recurrence.
“Right now, I’m feel I’m improving and getting more energy,” Whitehead said on Monday. She faces another five years of therapy, but “the treatment from here on isn’t as debilitating.”
Friends held an art-auction fundraiser in September at The Art We Are to lend financial support. Cindy Hayden, another of the muses, decided to add a fundraiser to her stained-glass show opening this Friday at Wilson House Gallery.
The show is called Rebuilding. The name is a reference to Hayden’s current practice of recycling vintage wooden doors, filling their windows with glasswork, but it serves equally well as a metaphor for Whitehead’s journey back to health.
“Normally we would keep something like this very quiet,” Whitehead said, assuming the collective identity of a coach. “We seem to try to do things on our own when they’re difficult.”
Rather than keep it to herself, Whitehead was encouraged through her integrated cancer-care program, InspireHealth, to reach out for her own sake. She’s been writing a blog account and keeping friends posted through a Facebook page. She’s also authoring a book on the journey. All of it has to do with overcoming the stigma and fear surrounding cancer.
“It’s been kind of wonderful, learning how to be open,” she said. “People are constantly lifting my spirits. It’s like a whole community of muses.”
Knowing the coach’s fondness for tall ships, Hayden is holding a silent auction of a stained-glass window depicting one at sea, its sails billowing in the wind. Over coffee at Hayden’s house Monday morning, Whitehead shared the source of her tall-ship inspiration, hearkening back to childhood and other influences.
“When I paint them, quite often they have a context and a spirit to them.”
The chemo triggered allergic reactions. She imagines herself as a tall ship to gain control of her reaction, summoning the power of the mind-body connection. Visualization is also a recognized tool of the creative process.
“There’s a really interesting process around healing and realizing what I need,” she said. “I really believe in visualization.”
The cause of the reactions, her doctor informed her, is “mast cells,” a type of immune cell. When she’d managed to gain control of her reactions, she was able to finish the treatment.
InspireHealth has lived up to its name and she encourages other people to consider the approach.
“I’m hoping people who aren’t aware will go have a look because it may be a good support system for them. There is so much to learn. It’s really important to put together a team.”
Whitehead recalled a trip she made in 2011 with her four-year-old niece, sailing aboard the tall ship Lady Washington. Leaving her young charge in a schoolteacher’s care, she took up the crew’s invitation to climb a mast to the lookout.
“It was absolutely a feeling like you were home,” she recalled.
When her health improves, she intends to charter the vessel with a like-minded group for a two-week voyage.
The reception includes a fundraising bake sale and gift baskets for sale. Hayden is impressed with the generosity shown by the community as a whole.
“It’s uplifting for me as well because I say, ‘What a great place to live,’ ” she said.
The opening takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery, 115 Tranquille Rd. The show continues until Dec. 19.