/////Cancer Survivor’s Artwork to Help Others Battling the Disease
Cancer Survivor’s Artwork to Help Others Battling the Disease 2018-01-05T09:11:32+00:00

DEC. 17, 2004 | People diagnosed with cancer face it in different ways. For Thomas Sullivan, it was with a sketchpad and pen. Now, it is also a way for him to share his good fortune and help others battling the disease.


His exhibit “Chemovision: Images Drawn While Surviving Leukemia” is on display through Dec. 31 in the second-floor gallery of the UAMS Library. Proceeds from the sale of Sullivan’s works will be donated to the UAMS Arkansas Cancer Research Center (ACRC) for services for patients.


Sullivan, J.D., LL.M., is an adjunct professor of law and psychiatry in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and a professor in the School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).


In early 2003, he thought he had the flu, but tried his best to continue working and pursuing his hobby of sketching and printmaking. By April, his wife, Suzy, told him that he looked jaundiced and insisted that he go to the doctor. Blood tests led to a bone marrow biopsy and then the shocking news – he was diagnosed with acute myelomonocytic leukemia.


“We, of course, were devastated,” he said, recalling the day Anne-Marie Maddox, M.D., professor of Internal Medicine in the hematology and oncology division in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of research, told him the bad news. That night he weighed his options; should he spend his last days at home and be grateful for what life he had, or endure treatments that may not work and hold onto hope of remission?


Sullivan has always been ready to fight for what he believes in. Prior to joining the faculties at UALR and UAMS, he served as a public defender in New Mexico and directed the appellate clinic at the Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas. He has represented clients in both civil and criminal cases in state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court. He decided to fight for his life, but knew the odds were against him.


The next day brought a ray of hope. The cancer had a genetic abnormality, one that worked in Sullivan’s favor. Dr. Maddox explained that people who have leukemia with the abnormality, called a 16 inversion, were more likely to survive. Dr. Maddox called her colleague, Dr. Eli Estey at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, a world-renowned specialist in the treatment of AML who is familiar with 16 inversions.


“Within 30 minutes of her call to Dr. Estey, he called me in my room and encouraged me to see him,” Sullivan said. He described Estey as an “extreme type A personality” who immediately made him feel as though the best professionals in the world would be on his medical team. The following day, he and his wife were on a plane to Houston.


At M.D. Anderson, Sullivan spent about three weeks in isolation being treated with large doses of the anti-cancer drugs. As a lawyer, he has worked with prisoners on death row, and in some ways, the similarities were striking, though he admits he had more creature comforts.


Those comforts, however, did not include his artwork. The medication made his hands swell to the point that he couldn’t hold a pen. He endured the hours by sleeping, watching television and answering emails through his laptop computer. His wife watched him through a window into the room, but they had to talk by telephone. “She had an incredible amount of patience and devotion,” Sullivan said, reflecting that often the battle against cancer is as hard on the caregiver as it is on the patient.


“After another bone marrow biopsy and blood work, I heard the most wonderful word I suppose any cancer patient ever hears – remission,” he said. In May 2003 he was discharged from Anderson Cancer Center and returned to Arkansas. Treatment, however, was far from over.


Back in Little Rock, Sullivan completed six more chemotherapy sessions at the ACRC over several months. Each treatment involved about a five-day stay on the sixth floor of the Harry P. Ward Tower at UAMS, during which time he felt good enough to begin drawing again. Angelfish, pumpkins, mushrooms and arrowhead leaves filled his sketch pad. Southwest landscapes flowed from memory down to his pen.


“Neither the cancer nor chemotherapy seem to have had profound effects on my subject matter and perception,” Sullivan said. “For me, being able to continue to draw was itself a point of value in reclaiming my health. It may be that all I can ask of art is that it simply remains a part of my life.”


Sullivan said that the effects of the chemotherapy, which vary widely from patient to patient, were easier to deal with than anticipated. He added that his wife and daughters were supportive throughout and he received prayers and good wishes from friends, former students, members of their church and many others.


Sullivan has been in remission for 20 months. He is a cancer survivor, but recognizes that not everyone has the resources and insurance to fight the battle.  Through his artwork he hopes to help those who haven’t had the resources he has had.


“Sitting in a waiting room you look around and your race, religion, politics, income…it doesn’t matter, you’re all sick. You’re all the same.”