Thursday, December 11, 2008

Artist battles back after tumor removed from head

By Mary Garvin
Special to the Reporter-News
Saturday, August 2, 2008

ALBANY — One August night in 2003, sometime around 2:30 a.m., 66-year-old Sam Davis of Abilene turned over in bed to see his wife, Brook, 63, gasping for air.

Her whole body strained as if trapped under enormous weight, every muscle painfully tense. The next minute, she was having extreme convulsions and jerked rapidly. She wouldn't respond when he said her name. Her glazed eyes didn't even blink.

Sam called 9-1-1. His wife was having a grand mal seizure. According to WebMD.com, the seizures can be caused by a brain tumor, stroke or even physiological trauma.

"It's the worst kind someone can have," Sam said.

Brook was hospitalized immediately. A CT scan revealed a meningioma brain tumor in her left frontal lobe. She needed surgery but was at too high a risk for a blood clot, as she had recently been hospitalized for a countless amount of blood clots in her lungs.

But through hard work, rehabilitation and a reliance on religious faith, Brook has resumed one of her passions: china painting. And she's using her art to share her story.

A life of art

In 1987, Brook was inspired by the china painting of Albany native Joy Harris, who got Brook started and introduced her to her first porcelain painting teacher. Although Brook has had other artist hobbies such as crocheting -- she owned her own shop in Abilene called "Brook's Stitchery" -- once she was introduced to China painting, she had found her life's work.

"I am so drawn to its beauty," Brook said. "The delicate, intricate patterns and beautiful flowers painted on such light but strong, porcelain -- I fell in love with it," she said. "I love it because unlike acrylic or oil paintings, porcelain art will never be destroyed in the sun or other severe weather conditions. It is beautifully permanent."

Brook's prayer partner Joyce Collins explained that Brook's painting is like her relationship with her Lord. She said Brook does not paint for her own glory but for the glory of the Lord. Since her first lesson in 1987, china painting has become as much a part of her day as reading her Bible.

After only three years of lessons, Brook began teaching classes and still does after almost 18 years. Brook is active in five porcelain art organizations such as the Big Country Porcelain Art Guild and the International Porcelain Art Guild.

But shortly before her seizure, Brook started to forget the steps to china painting. She knew in her head what she wanted to do. She just didn't seem to know how.

China paint comes as a dry powder pigment that the artist mixes with oils such as lavender or essential oil to make the paint. But Brook couldn't remember what the powdered pigment was supposed to be mixed with or how much oil to add when she did remember.

"I remember looking at my old paintings and thinking, 'How did I do that?'" she said. "But I kept going. It wasn't that I couldn't physically hold a brush; I couldn't remember how. I didn't remember how I made the tiny details or how to shade the different colors."

A medical crisis

Brook had experienced health problems before. A year before her grand mal seizure, she had been having frequent seizure activity that doctors thought were only panic attacks.

But after her grand mal seizure, a scan taken at Hendrick Medical Center showed a golf ball-sized tumor was lodged between her skull and brain, dangerously close to her left eye. She needed surgery, even if it meant causing blindness in her left eye.

But Brook had another problem. Only weeks before her seizure, she was hospitalized for numerous blood clots in her lungs. She was at high risk for another blood clot.

"On my lung X-ray, it looked like someone did this," she said, jabbing her hand in the air as if holding a dripping wet paint brush. "One will kill you, you know. So I had to be on a blood thinner for six months before surgery, just in case."

In February 2004, Brook was sent to Zale-Lipsky University Hospital in Dallas for the operation. There, a full team of surgeons would remove the tumor during a surgery scheduled to last 14 hours.

While there, Brook was constantly prayed over and anointed with oil by prayer partners and family. Her tiny hospital room was often filled to capacity with up to 10 people praying for her and for the surgeons that would operate on her.

"It turned out that the surgery lasted less than nine hours, and I was cancer-free," Brook said. "Frankly, I think it was prayer that made it not cancer, but that's just me."

"We were never discouraged," said prayer partner Annie Lou Harris. "We were not angry at God for her tumor because he has shown his glory through her."

Despite the success of the surgery, Brook still had a problem. Her brain tumor had stolen her painting abilities and coordination from her. She had to stop teaching her classes and start reteaching herself.

Every paint stroke, the stillness of her hands required to make the "perfect line," it was all familiar, yet at the same time very new and challenging.

"I remember looking at my old paintings and thinking, how did I do that?" she said. "I was bound and determined to be able to do all the things I could before. I would paint again."

Joyce said Brook experienced days of complete frustration, and she thought of giving up. But she also had days of hope. After two years of constant practice, Brook can paint just as well as before her seizure and is teaching classes again.

Telling her story

To share her journey, Brook has created a presentation called "The Rose."

During the presentation, she paints a rose step-by-step on a porcelain plate. The rose represents her life, every petal having separate meaning, such as faith, love and hope.

The rough-edged petals demonstrate every hard time that formed her into the person she is today. The center of the rose where every petal meets represents where Jesus Christ is, holding her life together.

As long as it stays that way, Brook believes her life is complete, and the rose will live.

"At the end of the presentation, she always wipes the rose off from the porcelain and every woman in the room goes crazy because they wanted to keep it," Joyce said. "But she never feels it is worthy to be fired, the process that makes the painting permanent. She thinks it was done too quickly."

Brook never stopped believing that God would heal her. She consoled others when they cried for her; she told them that the surgeons were chosen by God to do her surgery and that she would be healed.

"We always tried to encourage her, but instead she encouraged us. She lifted us up, telling us that she had faith in these doctors and the Lord to do His will," Joyce said.

"She never gave up, never doubted that she would be OK and paint again. She is truly a miracle."

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