When she was 13, Nadine Terk watched a beloved aunt die of breast cancer.
“She was terrified,” Terk remembered. “She had no one to talk to.”
That experience left Terk terrified herself of breast cancer, a feeling that was reinforced when the disease also claimed a former college friend.
“There is so much fear around the disease that some women don’t even get checked because they don’t think they can deal with it,” Terk said.
In the autumn of 2012, Terk, a portrait artist, decided to confront her own fears about the disease by doing portraits of women who had been treated for breast cancer. She felt the need, she said, to paint “real women with real bodies and real scars.”
Her friend Michael Fallucco, a reconstructive surgeon, introduced Terk to a woman named Maureen, who had undergone a mastectomy and was preparing for reconstructive surgery.
As they worked in Terk’s studio, located above a garage behind her Avondale home, Terk was amazed by Maureen’s attitude.
“She told me she had never felt happier, more beautiful or more alive than she had after her diagnosis,” Terk said.
The conversation “dispelled everything I had believed about breast cancer,” Terk said.
Terk began painting more portraits of breast cancer survivors, some of whom she sought out and some who approached her. One of her subjects was a man who had undergone a mastectomy.
Another subject, Anna, was a woman who had undergone a double mastectomy but was not a candidate for reconstructive surgery. Anna wore a tutu but went topless for the portrait.
“I wanted to project femininity,” Anna explains in a recording on the website www.there4uproject.com. “Because even though I don’t have a woman’s body anymore doesn’t mean I’m not a woman ... I’m really happy with myself. I’m having a wonderful life. Cancer has ravaged my body but not my spirit.”
There are 10 portraits portraying 12 people on the website, as well as documentary recordings about each portrait. Terk calls the project “There for You: Painting the New Face of Breast Cancer.”
She said the message she has drawn from her work on the project is that the women — and men — who must deal with breast cancer are resilient.
She exhibited some of her portraits at the Pink Ribbon Symposium last fall. Now she is planning to exhibit “There for You” from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Terk Oncology, the medical office of her husband, Mitchell Terk, a radiation oncologist. The office is located at 7017 A.C. Skinner Parkway.
Lee Buchanan, founder of Atta Girl! bracelets, will be there helping those in attendance make bracelets to give to women dealing with breast cancer. Delores Wise, executive director of Susan G. Komen North Florida, will sign up walkers and runners for the North Florida Komen Race for the Cure, which next takes place Oct. 18.
Her hope, Terk said, is that the exhibition “will inspire and give us courage, but most importantly, it will teach us how to be there for the one in eight women who will inevitably face this disease.”
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413