Kathleen Lighty has spent nearly five years as a terminal cancer patient. Although the bad news keeps coming, her incurable good humor, unwavering creativity and will to rise above her diagnosis have given her the opportunity to fulfill a dream she once rarely allowed herself to think possible.
"Floating in Time," Lighty's first one-woman show of photography, sculpture, magical boxes and jewelry will open July 10 at the Brush and Palette in Kennett Square.
A show at the Brush and Palette means the world to Lighty because gallery owner Bert Proscino was the first person to realize and encourage her creative talent when she was still a child. The Kennett Square native bought her first art supplies at the Brush and Palette when it was located above the Laundromat. In 1997 Proscino offered her a job at the gallery and soon became the official window designer.
"Kathleen would use materials to create a little surprise and the result was great - stunning - unique to her creative vision," Proscino said.
The creative juices began to flow even during the most grueling times that first year of chemotherapy and radiation. "Chemo slowed me down so much. I had to become aware or lie in bed like a lump," she said. So she began to think and plan and eventually get cracking, literally, on what became a life size full body mosaic sculpture. The sheer act of smashing china to use in the piece was therapeutic in itself.
Lighty didn't stop there. She returned to photography, a life-long passion and her major in college. She no longer had a fear of trying new things and also created textured jewelry and magical boxes.
"My creativity exploded once I started dealing with the cancer. It felt like I was able to be more conscientious in my thoughts and feelings about the work I was doing. I found my style and it focused me."
Even after cancer was found in her bone marrow and was labeled the ominously frightening Stage 4 - incurable - breast cancer, Lighty enjoyed a two-year honeymoon from debilitating side effects even while still battling with hormone treatments. She and her husband traveled extensively to "wherever space was available and money allowed" and she produced an array of work while she felt healthy. They took full advantage of the time because she knew it wouldn't last.
And, it didn't. The honeymoon is over. Weekly chemo began again last September.
"Things are very different now. My body has de-conditioned over time. There's very little physical stuff I can do that is enjoyable. There's never a day I can totally count on to feel well. I have trouble accepting my limitations as of late because there are so many limitations," she said.
Currently Lighty is in the midst of a three-month break from chemo because the side affects had become unbearable. She constantly lives with bone pain. A scan in June showed the cancer had broken through bone in her shoulder. Immediately she began a radiation regime
"I just turned 44. Every day from here is a beating the odds kind of thing," said Lighty smiling.
Somehow, some way, through it all and despite it all, Lighty has been putting the final touches on her collection for "Floating in Time."
Proscino said she feels the art itself and the show became a mission for Lighty. "The time is now. She pulled out all the stops."
She said when her friend is engrossed in her work there is no sense of the horrible experience she continues to endure. "When she's her most creative she can transcend her cancer."
Lighty explained, "In the ugliness of the hours I re-channel the emotions to a project."
While her statuesque mosaic will greet art enthusiasts at the Brush and Palette door, her photographs, 27 in all, will blow them away. Most are part of a series on water and its natural abstractions - stunning, intense liquid close-ups, surprising reflections and refractions. Beautiful.
"Floating in Time" will be up for view the first week of July with an artist reception Friday, July 10 from 6 - 9 p.m.
But, don't think this is the last you will see. By no means is this a one and only show. Lighty has plans. There is a lot more to art to make, trips to take and life to live.