by Rachel Hawkins
The Bio-Medical Library’s walls have recently been adorned with bright paintings of superheroes for the newest exhibit in the Art @ Bio-Med program, running now through October 2 (exhibit information).
But they are more than just flashy paintings. These are the stories of survivors.
This is the third post in this series of survivor stories, where we will introduce you to the superheroes and share each woman’s inspiring story.
The third superhero is Anne Drow: Ruby Runner.
Anne Drow: Ruby Runner
Wife, sister, mother of soldiers, grandmother, non-profit leader, Packers fan, daughter of a breast cancer survivor
Diagnosed at 40 in 2009
Double mastectomy, reconstruction, chemo
Anne has always embraced work. Growing up in northern Wisconsin, she labored in the ginseng, pickle and potato fields. As an adult she’s had office jobs. These days she’s a baker.
She likes the feeling of not just working, but working hard.
Anne’s breast cancer diagnosis did more than alter her body; her treatment changed her energy level. It was as if a button that regulates her stamina turned from high to low.
Chemotherapy knocked down her immune system as well. During treatment, she picked up the flu, an intestinal virus, pneumonia — twice. Her hemoglobin plunged, requiring a blood transfusion.
Her old vitality has still not returned.
“I’m grateful for the treatment but I miss the old me,” she said. “I’m so tired of being tired.”
As soon as Anne was asked to claim superpowers, she had a vision of Ruby Runner.
“She’s lean and strong and fast. She can walk and run forever. And she doesn’t need naps,” Anne said.
Anne is working to rebuild her strength. Someone suggested to Anne that maybe her reduced energy level is her ‘new normal.’
“I don’t accept that,” she said. “I won’t!”
Drawing on the Superhero Within
In 2008, my oldest friend from my growing up years in central Wisconsin came to visit and brought Anne along. She remembered me from high school! Sometime during that visit Anne remarked that she was struggling to get an appointment to get a lump in her breast checked.
Months later, Anne had her breasts removed within days of when Wonder Woman Katy had her double mastectomy. I heard about them as another friend’s breast cancer took her to her final hours.
That was when I became determined to do something – an urge that ultimately led me to the superheroes project.
When I asked Anne to imagine her superpowers, I was delighted with Ruby Runner. So simple, so original and so apt.
At her photo shoot she nailed it – that direct gaze, the simple smile – “see?” “it’s easy!” I also loved the inclusion of the pink wig she got the day she shaved her head – “…and then my sister took me to the mall, she bought me the wig and we had lunch. Everybody stared, but I didn’t care!”
Anne’s portrait was a challenge artistically; her body has taken a real hit, and she wanted a chance to be seen as she wants to feel inside. Ruby Runner, I hope I’ve done you justice!
– Barbara Porwit