Elisha-Rio P. Apilado’s first Brushes with Cancer was as an artist. Now, she’s seeing the other side of the experience as an Inspiration. 

Currently in school for art therapy, Apilado thought her talents could be useful as a 2019 Chicago Brushes with Cancer artist. Additionally, she had a very personal connection to the cause. In 2005, her father faced his first of four lung cancer diagnoses. 

He fought the disease on and off for 14 years, with Apilado serving as a caregiver alongside her mother. 

“It was a brand new experience for me to see him physically going through those changes and also see my mom taking care of him.”

To muster up the resilience to face cancer four times, the family turned to their Filipino roots to get through the challenging moments.

“The sense of resiliency is ingrained in our culture,” Apilado said. “I grew up with values that Filipinos are strong headed and always overcome adversity. Going through my father’s cancer journey and seeing those values firsthand is something my past self would be proud of.”

At the time of his first diagnosis, she was in high school and not ready to confront the complicated emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. 

“At the time, I wasn’t thinking ‘This is what I’m going to do to heal myself,’ I just did it.”

Being a caregiver too, her focus was on her father up until he passed in February 2019. 

“This year, I decided it was time to tell my story.”


The second time around 


Joey Tea is also enjoying his second Brushes with Cancer experience, both times as an artist. 

For Tea, his Brushes experience with Apilado was opposite – in a good way – from his partnership with 2019 Inspiration, Sharon Seeder. 

“Sharon often joked that she’s not artistic, so she didn’t want to do much of an art collaboration. She was happy trusting me with the process,” he said. “Finding out Apilado is an artist was exciting, and we wanted to collaborate in an art studio space but couldn’t due to COVID.”

To ease into the relationship, Apilado wrote out her story to Tea in an email. 

“I felt more comfortable writing things down and collecting my thoughts.”

The collaboration began with Tea asking Apilado – also a collage artist – to send over some drawings and paintings.

“I specifically sent the artwork I did while my dad was doing chemo,” she said. “I turned to art and dance during that time to get myself through it.”

They’d go back and forth digitally, with Tea working pieces of Apilado’s art into his own collage. The piece went from being made for Apilado to being made with Apilado. 

“Being an Inspiration was definitely different because I do art as my own personal therapy,” Apilado said. “It was harder for me to open up and share through talking.”

The process of piecing these significant works together allowed Apilado to let go and allow her instincts to guide her.

“With drawing and painting, I always have an end product in mind,” she said. “But with collage, I don’t have a plan. I just fit things in as I go.”



Running toward healing 


Along with art and dance, Apilado also threw herself into running as an outlet. She ran on her own and participated in runs to support cancer organizations and research. Since she took up running, Apilado has finished two half marathons and a full marathon, two half marathons and 12 5ks – one 5k every month.

“My motivation, my dad inspired me to keep running and to go back to dance.”

When Apilado presented her story to Tea, he took careful notes while reading through her email. After jotting down pieces that stood out, Tea sat with Apilado’s story. 

“One of the many things I love about Brushes with Cancer is it gives you a lot of time to create, and I took my time. Initially, I had an idea to do a silhouette of a runner or a dancer and I couldn’t decide.”

Knowing how important the two activities are to Apilado, Tea decided not to compromise.

“In the end, I put the two silhouettes together in photoshop.”

He then filled the silhouettes with Apilado’s personal drawings and items like race bibs and medals.

“I feel like a lot of times my art is focused on making something visually appealing and not delivering a story, so I had a lot of fun trying to tell Elisha’s story,” he said.

For Tea, it was important for Apilado’s art to be featured prominently in his piece. 

“She used art to heal during her fathers battle and it’s so cool to incorporate those drawings, medals and bibs,” Tea said. “I was happy how it came out, so I wasn’t too worried. However, you’re always unsure what the other person’s taste is like.” 

The big reveal was done over email and Apilado was immediately drawn to a powerful symbol in her life. 

“As soon as I saw Joey’s piece, my eye immediately went to the red-winged blackbird leading the figure forward. I knew it was about the story of my dad that I shared with him, seeing red-winged blackbirds every time I visited his grave as a sign that he was nearby,” she said. “It touched my heart and I was completely amazed by how Joey created a significant piece using all of my marathon races memorabilia and dance artwork.”

As an artist, Tea’s experience with Apilado was everything and more. 

“I was happy when she sent an email back saying she loved it. It felt good hearing that,” he said. Making art and getting to know a person is fun, but coming full circle and seeing someone’s story told in an art piece and having them be happy with it is the best-case scenario.”