It was the continuous series of sharp, shooting pains that artist Stacey Pelas experienced in 2018 which led to the detection of a grapefruit sized tumor in December of that year. As diagnoses go, this one was serious: Pelas had Stage 3 ovarian cancer; surgery was not only necessary, it needed to happen immediately.
After her surgery, the real healing began. In early 2019 Pelas endured a difficult post-operative recovery period, after which came twenty-five rounds of radiation therapy, followed by chemotherapy. By July, when she completed her treatments and was declared cancer-free, Pelas truly understood the lessons that all survivors learn: not only that a cancer diagnosis is the first step in a long and challenging journey, but also the critical importance of having convenient access to expert treatment, support, and care along the way.
Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Gonzales, where Pelas received her care, had been recommended to her as an optimal in-state resource. That turned out to be a boon for all kinds of reasons. The center is just ten minutes from her home and offers chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy, along with imaging services. In addition, patient resources included weekly yoga classes and art workshops, which Pelas took part in every chance she had. Through those workshops and classes, she befriended other patients who encouraged her to join the center’s survivorship network. Throughout the pandemic, the team at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center continued to deliver access to these resources via Zoom, all while ensuring that Pelas’s follow-up care continued uninterrupted.
“Mary Bird still gives so much to me. For anyone I find out is going through this, I immediately give them the number to the Cancer Center in Gonzales and encourage them to call. I tell them that they’ll help you every step of the way,” says Pelas, who has since taught art classes to fellow survivors at the Center.
For Pelas, art has been an escape, a place of complete immersion, and a lifelong source of joy. Her father, who was a chemical engineer, was a creative spirit who encouraged her interests from a young age. She developed that interest further throughout her high school years, then dove deeper following the devastating loss of her parents just a few years apart. In 2006, she launched her own business, SJRP Custom Creations, selling artwork in stores throughout Louisiana and appearing at regional art shows. In 2016, when Pelas had to undergo surgery for Stage 1 endometrial cancer, art served as a refuge from physical pain –– and its therapeutic benefits continued to provide comfort during her most recent bout with cancer.
“Throughout my cancer journey and treatments, I never really stopped. I did on the worst days, of course, but I would make sure that I went back to it whenever I felt well enough,” says Pelas, who credits her deep sense of faith, supportive husband, family, and friends for helping her through the difficult times.
For Pelas, conducting art workshops for fellow cancer survivors was a natural extension of the gratitude she feels toward the staff at the Cancer Center. That appreciation, it turns out, has been a family affair: During the pandemic mask shortage, her mother-in-law hand stitched nearly 400 masks for Cancer Center staff.
This July marked Pelas’s third year of living cancer-free—a renewed lease on life that has ignited a burst of creative energy in this lifelong creative spirit. While Pelas’s work still celebrates her love for Louisiana, her techniques and her canvases are evolving. Recently she has expanded beyond the salvaged, hand-cut roofing slates that have long served as her canvas of choice, and started exploring watercolors, experimenting with textures, and broadening her portfolio to include beach landscapes alongside her iconic (and popular) Louisiana motifs. She is a regular participant in regional art shows, and sells work in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Metairie and will soon be available in Lafayette and Gulf Shores (Alabama).
Ever the positive pragmatist, Pelas knows that whatever happens, she’ll keep going. “I’ll just continue on, because I am content and happy with the way the business is. If I could expand and be a little bit busier, that would be good too. And my husband would like that a lot too,” she laughs.