When Dr. Antje Petershagen was growing up, she discovered a love for art. Her parents, however, were not supportive of her passion as a profession.
“My parents were very direct in this and they told me ‘You’re not talented enough,’ she said.
Dr. Antje still pursued art. So much so that her parents obliged and began paying for her to take art classes with a local artist. The classes helped expand Dr. Antje’s skills and deepen her relationship with art.
“I learned a lot,” she said. “I was very eager to learn and I never gave it up.”
Despite her parents’ negative attitudes toward her artistic ventures, Dr. Antje never lost her passion and continued creating her entire life. Currently, Dr. Antje is many things, including a working and exhibiting artist, a physician, psycho-oncologist and nature coach.
“I went to medical school but I always had my pen.”
“My father died in 1981 and I still talk to him,” she said. “I smile at him and say ‘Hey, did you see my art on Instagram?’ It’s my way of saying ‘I painted this art for you.’”
Healing a cracked relationship through art
Years later, Dr. Antje’s mother changed her attitude toward art when she moved in with her daughter. At 90 years old, she was confronted with Dr. Antje’s art once again.
“She was very surprised,” Dr. Antje said. “She said ‘You were always painting nicely but I never knew you were an artist.’”
For most of her adult life, Dr. Antje kept distance—both physical and emotional—between her life and her family’s lives.
“We were never very close, they didn’t know much about me; I was living far away for years,” she said. “Suddenly, the family decided they didn’t want my mother and she ended up with me.”
At first, Dr. Antje was hesitant to share her work with her mother. But through art, the two began to form a connection that didn’t previously exist.
“I had no close connection to her for years and I had to find something we could connect on,” she said. “I don’t have a TV, so she started painting.”
Soon, Dr. Antje learned artistic abilities run in her family.
“She is really good,” Dr. Antje said. “I always say ‘Mom, I could never do what you do.’ I’m very proud of her—she’s my best student.”
Not only has art given Dr. Antje and her mother a point of connection, but it has also brought joy into her mother’s life.
“I think art has given her life,” Dr. Antje said. “When she first came to live with me she wanted to die and she is quite happy today.”
Continuing to heal with the perfect partner
By the time Dr. Antje learned about the Brushes with Cancer program, she already knew art’s potential to connect and heal. However, she quickly discovered Brushes with Cancer combined many of her key life experiences.
A social media post about the program prompted her to reach out to Twist Out Cancer Founder and CEO Jenna Benn Shersher. When the two connected, Dr. Antje asked to be part of the program as an Inspiration, or someone touched by cancer who has an art piece created out of their journey.
“I never really revealed I was a cancer patient for a long time,” Dr. Antje said about her relationship to cancer. “It took me nine years to think about it and open up. So, when I saw this program, I thought ‘This is a sign.’”
That divine intervention continued when she met her Artist, Alejandro Lopez-Rincon. Immediately, the two found support and security in one another’s presence, with Alejandro approaching Dr. Antje’s story with the utmost respect.
“I felt very close, I could open up,” she said. “Alejandro was discreet. He was a man asking about a very female disease, so he was shy in the beginning.”
Alejandro took his job as a Brushes with Cancer Artist seriously. Throughout the program’s four-month period, he created three separate paintings for Dr. Antje.
“It was difficult to make an artwork good enough for this beautiful program,” he said in his artist statement.
He revealed all three paintings to Dr. Antje and ultimately chose “3 Colors” as his Brushes with Cancer submission. The painting takes inspiration from how cancer cells look like a cherry blossom tree when placed under imaging with red dye. The painting shows a tree branch with flowers in three colors, all representing Dr. Antje’s roles as an artist, patient and healer.
“He is so perfect,” Dr. Antje said. “I could not have found a better match in my life. This is number one.”