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Positive figures: Student artists help cancer survivors tell their stories

DIXON – Rooted in her faith, Cece Duncan found strength to overcome the challenge ahead of her: breast cancer.

Duncan, a secretary at the Whiteside Area Career Center, was 50 when she was diagnosed in 2013, and when telling her story to a group of students for the Home of Hope Mannequin Project, her resounding faith was present throughout.

"As a Christian lady, I went praying; I took this very positively with my faith," she said.

And God was the first person she turned to when the cancer went into remission 2 years later.

"When I found out that I didn't have cancer anymore, I had to fall on my knees and thank God."

Seven students took her story, and with a bit of paint and creative interpretation, translated it into art with mannequins as their canvas.

WACC digital media arts student, Kaitlyn Mateika, 17, used paint as her medium and titled the work "With Him."

"The mannequin displays important events and meanings to Cece through her cancer journey, like faith depicted by the cross," Mateika said.

Lauren Strauss, 17, went the more abstract route when creating her piece "Hope" that features pink paint dripping down the mannequin.

Both Duncan and her grandmother, JoAnn Strauss, were her inspiration.

"No matter the news, there is always someone or something to get you through the tough times," she said. "The look of the mannequin is nontraditional to represent the uniqueness of everybody's story with cancer."

In addition to Duncan, seven other cancer patients had their stories told through artists in the Home of Hope Mannequin Project, in an exhibit titled "This is me! This is hope!" that has been traveling throughout the Sauk Valley.

For Duncan, telling her story wasn't easy at first, but then she realized why it was important.

"I figured that I'm helping someone else by sharing my story, hoping that others will know that they aren't alone in this battle," she said.

The students started sharing their own stories of friends and loved ones with cancer and the wide net that it casts.

"In talking to them, they started sharing their stories, and I realized that almost everyone has been affected by cancer in some sort of way," she said.

Dixon artist Barb Lundeen was both the artist and the cancer patient.

Her mannequin titled "Nobody ever died of embarrassment!" is a testament to how she promotes awareness of living life to the fullest even in troubling times.

"I was embarrassed with my diagnosis, but I thought that, you know, nobody ever died of embarrassment," Lundeen said.

Spreading that awareness and the importance of removing the stigma of cancer making someone helpless is important to Lundeen, and painting her own mannequin was a unique experience to tell her story.

"The mannequin represents my experience," she said. "The cancer colors on my mannequin are yellow for bladder cancer, peach for uterine cancer and teal for gynecological cancers and all the other colors of the rainbow for every other affliction."

Each artist aimed to create something unique, some utilizing paint, cloth, scripture, photos and in one case, earth.

The 14 mannequins used for this project are on display at the Woodlawn Arts Academy, 3807 Woodlawn Road, in Sterling, until June 1 before their last stop at CGH Medical Center 100 E. Le Fevre Road, which will run until June 30.

Project inspiration

Home of Hope Executive Director Joan Padilla used some TV inspiration for the unique project.

Flipping through the channels at home, Padilla came across "Skin Wars," a reality TV show where artists compete for the best work of body art.

"Those artists were painting on people's bodies, so I thought I could use these mannequins we had laying around as a canvas to mimic a body," Padilla said.

She then reached out to the art community and the Whiteside Area Career Center to gather interest and then connected them with cancer patients.


Lauren Strauss, Milledgeville

Name of art: Hope

Subject: Cece Duncan, JoAnn Strauss

Kaitlyn Mateika, Forreston

Name of art: With Him

Subject: Cece Duncan

Kassie Murray, Milledgeville

Name of Art: Flourishing Fighter

Subject: Cece Duncan

Colton Reuter, Bureau Valley, Leslie Sonnenberg, Prophetstown

Name of art: Wolf of Dreams

Subject: Cece Duncan

Devyn Heymann, Erie

Name of art: The Way to Happiness

Subject: Cece Duncan

Abby Castillo, Sauk Valley Community College

Name of art: I’m Still Me

Subject: Cece Duncan

D'angelo Abell, Sauk Valley Community College

Name of art: Light 

Subject: Cece Duncan

Heather Shore

Name of art: She Wears Armor

Subject: Tara

Barb Lundeen

Name of art: Forever

Subject: Darla

Rock Rover Valley Painters Guild; Barb Lundeen

Name of art: No one has ever died of embarrassment!

Subject: Barb

Linda VonHolten

Name of art: Woven in Time/Woven in Love

Subject: Jaime


Name of art: Rising Out of the Depths

Subject: Deb

Amy Fenwick

Name of art: Rough Skies

Subject: Lorna

Whitney Hey

Name of art: Melodic Journey

Subject:  Lorri

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