When her husband of 10 years was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, photographer Wendy Denton said her brain went into hibernation for a bit. Then her mind began spitting out images of how to unpack a life and live it fully in the last days they had left together.
“I think visually,” she explained, so it was only natural that she express what was happening to her husband Ken West and to their life through her art. She captured her first reaction to the news about cancer in a photo of her reflection in a broken mirror. Over the next 18 months as Ken was declining, the two explored their emotions and life with cancer through photography.
The result is both poignant and funny.
On Nov. 6 at 6 p.m., Denton will share those photos and talk about the experience at Clovis Community Medical Center’s HealthQuest lecture. The evening event is free to the public but seating at the H. Marcus Radin Conference Center on the hospital campus is limited so reservations are required.
“Pretty quickly after the diagnosis we decided to do a photo project. Ken had been in community theater since he was a kid so he loved to be center stage,” Denton said. “Even five days before he died he said, ‘Isn’t it time for another photo?’ He loved it. I did the conceptual thinking and he was the actor.”
This exhibit isn’t a photojournalistic look but an artistic, sometimes humorous exploration of end of life issues. “We did a few around the things people say when they don’t know what to say,” Denton said. “We heard: ‘Think of it as a gift.’ So the image I made is of a beautifully wrapped gift in a burned down house.” In another Ken sits in front of a book case with titles on books replicating some of those things people said without thinking – “He has cancer? Well, how old is he? 65? Oh well.”
“When Ken got cancer, our pledge to each other was to be completely transparent,” Denton said. “Nothing was off the table. It was in that environment that these images could grow … Two things emerge immediately: the power of creativity and that self-expression is healing for everyone involved.”
Denton speaks about a friend who had the opposite experience: “Her husband had cancer for five years and they never talked about it even as he was dying. We need to allow these thoughts in or we don’t heal.”
By Erin Kennedy of Corporate Communications