Sculptor, John Magnan

Sculptor, John Magnan
(Photo: Nelson Mare, New Bedford, MA)

Robert Burger, MD, Director, Women’s Cancer Center at Fox Chase Cancer Center

For many people, art serves as a healthy outlet throughout the healing process. For some, it might simply calm anxiety, for others it may help articulate what they are feeling or experiencing. As you walk through the Women’s Cancer Center you will notice a number of powerful pieces of art on display, and in the coming months, you will see additional pieces. I asked John Magnan, the creator of the exhibit, to share with you the story behind the art, because I think you will find there is deep meaning in it for all of us.

Be well,

As an artist, finding a space to display my work that appropriately complements its message is important to me. That is why I donated my exhibit, Body Image/Body Essence to the Women’s Cancer Center at Fox Chase.

This exhibit, composed mostly of sculpture, began as a response to my wife Mary being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1999. Like many caregivers, I was powerfully affected by the shock of her diagnosis, as well as the surgery and treatment which followed. Mary served as a partner, supporter, critic, model and tireless editor of the exhibit. Without her determination to persevere in the face of frightening odds, I would not have been able to do this.

Artistically, Body Image/Body Essence explores the distinction between who I am and what I look like, a conflict faced by women with ovarian cancer after its invasive surgery and treatments. The exhibit, a visual vocabulary for ovarian cancer awareness, also addresses other aspects of a changed self image – both somber and lighthearted. Issues of scarring, fatigue and fertility are explored in some pieces, but I also aimed to honor the sense of humor that is so important when looking at the lighter ramifications of “chemo brain” or hair that refuses to grow back the same as before.

My fondest wish for my art is that it validates the various emotions that living with cancer involves. In times of stress, we all want to be validated. We want to know that we are not alone, and that our trials and tribulations are valid. Cancer patients deal with huge loss and with compromise; they need to know that we know it.

I chose to donate the work to the Women’s Cancer Center because of Fox Chase Cancer Center’s President and CEO, Michael V. Seiden, who, at the time was leading the gynecologic cancer program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Seiden served as Mary’s oncologist from her diagnosis until her passing. The art will be displayed in the new Women’s Cancer Center upon its completion in spring 2010. Until then, selected pieces from the exhibit will be displayed in various locations within the space.

John Magnan's art graces the cover of Forward magazine

As I created these sculptures, I came to see the exhibit as a narration of a survivor’s transition from what came before ovarian cancer to a new reality. As you walk through the Women’s Cancer Center, I hope this exhibit will help you feel connected to the many women who have lived with cancer and that you draw strength from it for your own journey.

I invite you to read the fall 2009 issue of “Forward,” in which the Women’s Cancer Center is prominently featured.

John Magnan, Sculptor