St. Jude gave me watercolor talent before I'd picked up a brush

Old scrapbook from time at St. Jude rekindles cancer survivor’s love of art.

  •  3 min

Worried her memories of bone cancer treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would fade, 13-year-old Vivian Laws did something not many kids would: She started a scrapbook to document the good and the bad – everything from family vacations to the process of cleaning her leg wound after surgery. Recently, Vivian, now 25, came across the old scrapbook. It sparked something…


My mom bought me a scrapbook at the very beginning of my cancer treatment. She got it because I shared with her my fear of forgetting. You see, many of my friends and family, in an effort to comfort me, told me I was so young my memories of the hard things would one day disappear. But I really wanted to remember.

I understood, even at 13, that what I was going through would shape the person I’d become. When I came across the scrapbook recently, I felt proud of my past self for having the strength to document such a difficult time.

As I flip through the pages, I have an overwhelming sense of what I call “restorative nostalgia.” I can feel the perspective I had at the time on my experiences. Most of the pages are humorous and use creative titles like “hair today, gone tomorrow,” which is a page documenting my hair loss from chemo. Humor helped me cope during treatment, and I’m glad it comes through in the pages.

When COVID-19 began, and after finding the scrapbook, I rediscovered my love of art. I had a lot more time for hobbies and set up shop on my kitchen table. When I rediscovered painting, I also discovered inks, acrylic, distress oxides and several other mediums.

I started by watching YouTube watercolor tutorials, and as I got more comfortable with the paints and understood how much water to use, I would search specific questions. Like “How to use a toothbrush to splatter paint stars?”

I like to paint in the evenings, after work or school, when the day has settled and my brain can settle, too. If I’ve had a stressful day, I choose an abstract painting that requires less technical skill. But if I’m looking for a challenge, I’ll choose a painting style that requires me to learn something new.

I find I’m drawn to watercolors because the medium, in some ways, can’t be controlled. You’re kind of going with the flow of the paint. It’s like a Zen thing, and again, it reminds me of treatment.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you completely lose control of most aspects of your life. I found if I didn’t become comfortable with this lack of control, I would never find peace with what I was going through. So when I was in treatment at St. Jude, I made an effort to live in the now and focus on the current day.

I originally turned to art to have some control over cancer, yet I believe it's the letting go I learned at St. Jude that gave me a talent for watercolors from the time I picked up my first brush. I've even begun selling my watercolors to raise funds for St. Jude.

Watercolors provide me with an outlet to completely shut off my mind and go with the flow. I’m in the present moment as I paint.

Completely and utterly content to be exactly who and where I am right now.