Adapting to cancer
The teachings of Iran Darroudi, the great contemporary Iranian painter
By: Dr. Sepideh Omidvari
Psychiatrist and Associate Professor, Cancer Research Center of Tehran’s Medical Science University
Having a right perception of life, tolerating its unwelcome events and acceptance of death as a life realty, are all very important. An unwavering battle against its difficulties is possible if we could have a right view of life included all its unpleasant events.
In previous editions, certain aspects of dealing with a serious illness were discussed and with Nourooz arrival, we continue by expanding this subject. In this writing we try to show a genuine example of defeating cancer by one of our contemporary artists who has struggled with this disease. She has overcome the cancer only by understanding the essence of life.
Iran Darroudi, the great contemporary painter, was born in Mashhad in 1936. She studied in France, Belgium and USA in various subjects with different focuses such as painting, history of art, directing and films production both for cinema and television. She has set up 64 individual and participated in 250 group exhibitions all over the world including United Sates, Italy, France, Japan, Australia, and Iran. There are three books and a few articles published about her life, works and her artistic views on life and art, notably “The distance between two points” and two other editions devoted to her paintings.
We continue this article by some passages of Ms Darrouidi’s interview with an Iranian art magazine. This is in anticipation encouraging happiness and hope in our lives in this festive times of, just like Darroudi’s paintings.
Darroudi notes: “Each one of us has reached his own definition of life which is based on one’s encountered experiences. In my view, life is the most precious gift of god to human race. But I want to say; unfortunately many take it for granted and fail to recognize its value and significance. Life is the miracle of creation, a marvel that is ignored by most people. Its richness and abundance is far reaching but to many it looks inconsequential. A better understanding of life needs noticing the interrelated elements. One of those elements is humane wisdom and the other is culture, art and comprehending life’s meaning.”
I believe if we are able to tolerate and live with our pains and wounds, through that experience the cognizance and understanding would be achievable. I am not afraid of encountering agonizing experiences. If I come across such misfortunes, I will fully embrace them. I prefer to live with such misery than avoid them. I am not a person to turn my back on reality or deny it. I try to challenge it head on. I try to comprehend the trouble I am faced with and fight back. The hard reality cannot defeat me. I can say this is my way and the life style I have chosen to follow. For example, after cancer surgery, I rejected the option of taking pain killer such as morphine injection as I wanted to remain fully alert and understand everything that was happening to me and around me.
Through evaluating the options of going forward, I concluded this kind of life in spite of its difficulties is worth experiencing. In my view we must stand against life pains, be it mental or physical and experience them. We humans are able to learn from our life pains and wounds.
I have suffered dreadful physical pains. I have endured terrible discomforts from numerous surgeries that I have had. When I came across these pains, I said: “pain is part of life, let’s live with it”. I persevered to the extent that I was cured ultimately.
I dreamed the Angel of Death standing over me after three successive cancer surgeries. Then I muttered: “Go back the way you came. Don’t you see my visitors and how much they love me? I would like to live. I should live.”
I am fascinated by life. I am in love with life in spite of all its difficulties and its beauty.
Q: Given today’s life difficulties, do you still like the life to continue on?
Yes I do, because I’m a determined person. I have still plans for my museum that keeps me going. This motivates me to come up with excuses to push back Angel of Death’s final visit.
I remember a poem by Shamloo:
Here I stand strongly
…. Far from my routes
This is to say
And for this mission
It’s been a long while
That I have deceived
I was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and then I had several surgeries in year 2000. I used my room in hospital as my office. I was editing my book, “The Hearing Eye”. I was immersed in the work to the extent that I hardly felt any pain. The motivation to cherish life is so strong in me that make every minute gratifying. Occasionally my sister Pouran who loved and cared for me, used to tell me with a kind and nonetheless in a complaining tone: “This book will kill you.” Whilst to the contrary, I had a deep belief in me that editing this book makes my stimulus stronger to fight against the pain and death.
Q: Did you feel depressed while you were struggling with cancer?
Not at all, but I requested not to have visitation right. I didn’t like to be visited by relatives and be seen on a hospital bed. As I thought there could be irrelevant questions or feeling of pity. I hate the sympathy towards others as much as dislike others sympathy towards me.
Cancer treatment course is tough for some people. However, I can even say the cancer became a miracle in my life.
Yes “cancer” with the same emphasis you put on the word.
It was the cancer experience that made me realize the true meaning of life. I can call it a life experience under the shadow of death. Thereafter, I never feared the old age, or the blindness; I just try to live every moment in full.
Cancer and following surgeries, taught me to live mindless of past regrets or future anxieties and I learned to live and enjoy the moment. All of that enabled me to adopt such attitude and this was the cancer’s gift that I treasure.
Let me tell you something astonishing: The night before my operation, I was packing and pricing my work for a U.S. exhibition that was to be held the following month. That night, I had to stay up until 4 am to make all the tableaus ready. Next day, as they were going to admit me to the hospital, I complained that the room’s view was not nice at all. That was unexpected for the nurses: How could the room’s view be the main objection for a patient getting ready for a dangerous surgery? They changed my room to another one against Seine River and the Paris Town Hall. Later, they brought me comforting drug before bedtime. I asked them what is this for? They replied: to sleep. I asked them again why should I sleep? And I objected, why the room has no TV set? They said: “Have your pills and sleep like other patients.” I said: “May be this is the last night of my life. I‘ll have plenty of time to sleep in after life. I would like to live today without anxiety regardless of whatever is going to happen tomorrow.” This kind of confrontation with the sickness and death demonstrates my desire and fascination towards living. It is imperative for us to appreciate the gift of life not only in happiness and comfort but also in the hardships and distressed moments of life.
I spent many months in different hospitals in Paris while receiving radiotherapy treatment and for its associated side effects. When I was discharged from the hospital, I was getting too lean that the nurses had to wrap my legs with cloth to prevent them from getting injured by friction between them.
Q: Would it be fair to say that your illness affected you more physically than mentally?
Yes it has. I have said it repeatedly before and I like to reiterate it again that: The cancer was my life’s miracle. It was then, that I realized the real value and splendor of life. It is so great to reach this level of cognizance that: we should accept life, as it is, even with pain and discomfort, and be grateful for it.
Q: With all these attachments to life, do you ever think about death at all?
Yes, very much so. As much as I think about life, I think about death too. I wish to defer my death as long as possible, and this is of course to have a chance to complete my unfinished works, take full advantage my time in this life, and particularly to inaugurate my museum personally.
I don’t think about the Angel of Death but rather give him the pleasure to think about me; I will tell him: “You are my reward, not my end, as I see death as a new start.”
The source: The book of “An Interview with Iran Darroudi”, Mehdi Mozaffari Savadji, published by Sales, second edition, 2018