Life Studies

| October 20, 2011
Laura Chamberlin.

Laura Chamberlin.

As an artist, Laura Chamberlin had felt a calling to depict the struggles of women through her paintings. But at age 28, she never would have imagined one such struggle would drastically change the appearance of her artwork as well as her outlook on life.

Earlier this year, Chamberlin was diagnosed with breast cancer after scheduling a biopsy to determine the cause of a hard spot on her breast. As a 28-year-old, the last thing she suspected was breast cancer, but she soon heard the devastating and shocking news that she in fact had a 5 centimeter cancerous tumor.

Child with a Dove.

Child with a Dove.

“I remember just the name of it was scary sounding – it was like poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma grade III,” Chamberlin said. “It was really interesting when I got diagnosed with breast cancer, though, because I almost felt like it was part of my path. This is another thing that women really have to struggle with to survive. So of course, I had to incorporate that into my art and that kind of became a focus.”

With a master’s degree in psychology, mental health counseling and art therapy from Antioch University Seattle, she was also better prepared to deal with the emotional aspect of her diagnosis.

“Every time I go to chemo, I bring in this outline of the human body and then I draw the chemo going into my veins and going right to where the tumor is and making it smaller,” she said.

Since having five chemotherapy treatments, Chamberlin’s tumor has shrunk in half. Throughout her three-month journey she’s also taken on third shift (11 p.m to 8 a.m.) full-time at Maryhurst, where she works with girls who experience abuse and trauma. Outside of that time, she schedules doctor’s appointments and works on her artwork, which has visibly changed since her diagnosis with cancer.

“All the sudden I started doing self-portraits,” she said. “I guess I was in an introspective place and really wanted to convey the trauma and shock of it. I wanted to capture each step of it. It’s funny because I think breast cancer has improved my art and somehow made it more raw and honest.”



According to Chamberlin, studies have shown that trauma is stored in the right side of the brain, therefore creating difficulties for individuals wanting to verbally express themselves. However, with the help of art therapy, people can draw or paint aspects of their trauma in order to become better equipped to discuss it openly with others.

Art therapy has been a huge source of solace for Chamberlin, as well as the support from her family. She believes breast cancer has taught her a valuable lesson in accepting love from others and allowing others to help take care of her during her difficult time.

“When you’re vulnerable, you need to accept things from other people,” she said. “I’ve been getting all these care packages and concern and love, and I’m finally able to be more open and receptive to that. In a weird way, it’s kind of been a strange little gift.”

With three chemo treatments left, Chamberlin said she finds achieving significant milestones has helped her to cope. One such milestone was being signed as November’s featured artist at the Mac Worthington Gallery of Contemporary Art in Ohio.

As for her advice to others going through a similar struggle, Chamberlin said she finds comfort in the routine. For each of her treatments, she wears bright clothing and lipstick, which helps her to mentally prepare. She also advises others to seek what brings them joy, and for her, art has certainly helped elevate her happiness and positive outlook on life.

Trauma II.

Trauma II.

“I used to be all about climbing the ladder of success,” she said. “I used to constantly rush and look for ways to improve the quality of my life. This has really slowed me down and helped me stay in the present. And, I realize just how much my artwork is a part of who I am. I think it’s so important for people to know how strong women are but also how much they have to go through. People need to see their struggle and their internal strength, and I want that to show in my art.”

For information on Chamberlin’s artwork, visit

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at, 502.498.2051.

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Ashley Anderson

Ashley spends half her time writing stories at The Voice-Tribune office and half her time out on the town conducting interviews, while occasionally dressing in wild outfits to fully immerse herself in the experience (aka Princess Leia at Comic Con). Ashley is a huge UofL fan and loves the Yankees and the Boston Celtics (she is fully aware of the irony). She hopes to one day outshine Erin Andrews on ESPN and enjoys running, Bardstown Road/Fourth Street, Breaking Bad and reality TV (she’s not ashamed to admit that).

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