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Artist’s battle with cancer motivates him to embrace life

New paintings become a source of healing

POSTED: September 25, 2011 1:30 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Flowery Branch resident Abraham G. Egziaber sees his cancer being in remission as a second chance at life. He wasn't expected to live longer than two years after his 2008 diagnosis.

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Painting and drawing come as naturally to Abraham G. Egziaber as swimming to a fish.

"My grandfather was a painter in Ethiopia. He did a lot of church decorations and manuscript illustrations. The Emperor Menelik sent him to France for (classic instruction)," said Egziaber, a Flowery Branch resident.

"My father is an artist, too. I started drawing at an early stage, and he noticed my talent."

Even though paint flows through his veins, Egziaber walked away from the arts until a dire medical prognosis brought him back in touch with his roots.

"In 2008, I got diagnosed with myeloma," Egziaber said.

"It was in the late stages. The doctors said at most I would live a year or two."

Myeloma is a bone marrow cancer that impacts the blood's plasma cells. According to the International Myeloma Foundation, 20,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States alone.

"They did a stem cell transplant and all of that, but (the doctors) thought I didn't even benefit from it. I started another treatment, but I couldn't take it, so I quit," Egziaber said.

"I used my art to draw what I was feeling. It helped me to get away from thinking about the disease."

Even though Egziaber was using his paintings as a distraction, his subconscious wasn't easily swayed. His artwork began to take on a darker tone. His wife and daughters even described some of the pieces as "scary."

One day, Egziaber took stock of his work and decided to change his artistic outlook and do away with the disfigured imagery.

"I said, ‘maybe, I am bringing this bad luck to myself. So I started changing the paintings I'd already drawn," Egziaber said.

"I decided to make my work be for healing purposes. My paintings now are all about life and how it's a journey."

Changing the tone of his paintings also inspired the artist to change his "wait-and-see" approach to his medical treatment. Having already lived longer than doctors predicted, Egziaber returned to his doctor to find out what was going on with his cancer.

"My doctor said the only way to find out, is to do a bone marrow biopsy. I'd done one before and knew it was very painful, so I didn't want to do it again," Egziaber said.

"But I did it."

The results were better than he could've hoped for. His cancer was in "sustained remission."

"When they told me that, I knew this was a second chance that God was giving me, so I had to use it," Egziaber said.

"Once I'm gone, I'm gone. Why not contribute by showing my (paintings) to society? I've lived here almost 19 years, but no one knows I'm an artist."

For the last several decades, Egziaber's work has been largely out of sight of the public. He's donated a piece here or there for fundraisers at his children's schools and even participated in a small art show, but for the most part, no one in his community knows about his talent.

He's had a solo show at The Goethe Institute in Kenya and in 1983 the Seattle Arts Commission purchased one of his paintings , which is still in regular rotation in public exhibits today.

With his second chance, Egziaber is planning to share his work with the public. He started by being a participant Saturday in the Fine Art Showcase at Brenau University, which was hosted by the Quinlan Visual Arts Center and the John Jarrard Foundation.

He hopes to use his deepened appreciation for life as a source of encouragement for others. Even if viewers don't appreciate his brush strokes or composition, Egziaber says he hopes at the very least his work inspires others to be optimistic in the face of adversity.

"My latest paintings were a motivational tool for me to have a positive outlook, and I want to share that with the public," Egziaber said.

"I thank the almighty for giving me this second chance. I am not going to waste it."

 



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