Open Accessibility Menu

Abilene artist’s health crisis inspires artwork at Hendrick Cancer Center

Abilene artist’s health crisis inspires artwork at Hendrick Cancer Center

Art is a constant companion for Abilene artist and private teacher Patty Rae Wellborn, even during a cancer diagnosis. Paintings that buoyed her thoughts and emotions during treatments also are bringing solace to others at the Hendrick Cancer Center.

“When I’m painting or drawing, I just kind of get into the zone. I get very calm. It’s very relaxing for me. I’ve used it as a coping mechanism most of my life,” said Wellborn.

Known for her colorful, abstract images in oils, acrylics and watercolors, Wellborn leaned even more into visual expressions after diagnosed with breast cancer July 8, 2022.

“When I got diagnosed, I was so frustrated because I had been through so much,” said Wellborn.

In the three previous years, Wellborn dealt with her parents’ deaths within four months of each other, two house moves and changing studios. She next feared being sick and bored while sitting for hours for chemotherapy and other treatments.

Some of the art students she had inspired for many years, having grown close like sisters, steeled her for the newest derailment in life’s journey.

“They put together a little painting tote – purple, my favorite color – and stocked it with watercolor supplies. They said, ‘You have to paint.’ They had no sympathy for me,” said Wellborn.

She then laughed when recalling what else her students told her: “‘And we’re not going to shave our heads in solidarity.’ They’re a fun bunch. They said you’re going to buck up and you’re going to paint.”

And that’s what she did through weeks of radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Abstracts of angels, healthcare providers and other images flowed from water, color and brush to paper, even when the medications made her sleepy.

“Sometimes I was just kind of asleep – sitting up and still painting,” said Wellborn. “But I’d wake up every once in a while and my brush would jerk across the page. I decided I liked what was coming out of my subconscious, and I just kept doing it.”

The nurses also liked what she was doing. They asked her what needed to be done to hang her artwork in the Hendrick Cancer Center.

Wellborn already knew the answer. Prior to her cancer diagnosis, some of her paintings had been purchased to hang in physicians’ offices at the Hendrick Medical Center South campus and for a patient floor at Hendrick Medical Center (HMC). She also created “The Healer” and “The Mission” paintings for a remodeled HMC physician’s lounge.

Cancer patients now can find encouragement in Wellborn’s vibrant works that hang in the Hendrick Cancer Center. Angels are the theme of two of the works – a watercolor and the “Army of Angels” oil painting of scrub-clad healthcare providers in hues of sea green and bluish purples. For the third painting, pops of red flowers accent an impressionist landscape.

"Army of Angels" by Patty Rae Wellborn hangs in the Hendrick Cancer Center.

("Army of Angels" by Patty Rae Wellborn hangs in the Hendrick Cancer Center Learning Center.)

Wellborn, who expects to wrap up her cancer treatments by end of summer, poured her admiration for her medical team into those paintings. She also taught an art lesson to the attendees of the Women’s Cancer Support Group, which meetings the second Thursday of every month.

“I just can’t say enough good about the ones who took care of me,” said Wellborn, listing the nurses, doctors, Cancer Center Learning Center staff and even the receptionists.

“You walk in and they know your name. You don’t need to tell them who you are. ‘Hello, Ms. Wellborn.’ It was wonderful,” she said.

One of the rewards of being an artist is people’s feedback. Wellborn relishes that people connect in different ways with her abstracts.

“They tell me it moves them, touches them in some way,” said Wellborn. “To any artist, that’s good to hear that they appreciate your work and they see things in your work.”

(Top Photo: Abilene artist Patty Rae Wellborn sits in front of her abstract painting of healthcare workers in turquoise scrubs, called "Army of Angels." Next to her is a purple tote of watercolor supplies she used to create artwork while receiving cancer treatments.)