Sometimes, it’s through suffering that we experience the greatest joy. That is how Eileen Powers channeled her cancer diagnosis into a creative project that gave her purpose, fulfillment, and a meaningful connection with others.
It was delivered in the form of makeshift hair – banjo strings, kale, ramen noodles, corn husk, bike tubes, and more – sent from friends, family, neighbors, and complete strangers. She donned these faux wigs, allowing her to become someone else, anyone really – a country singer, a boxer, the stereotypical mom doing dishes, a handyman – which enabled her to reclaim an identity that lymphoma had stripped away.
Over the course of a year and a half, Powers endured 11 rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant that wreaked havoc on her body. That was the difficult part.
The good? “When you have cancer so many friends and family want to help you,” she says. “I feel really grateful that so many people stepped up and made food for me or asked if they could drive me to the hospital or take me to appointments.”
A freelance graphic designer and a portrait photographer, Powers decided to combine her creative talents with the eagerness of her friends and family to launch an artistic project in the spring of 2019 that she dubbed, “Can You Make Hair for Me?”
That has led to an artistic journey of discovery, healing, and love, resulting in nearly 85 series of photographs of Powers wearing an assortment of “hair” that has been donated by people from all over the country. “I’m hoping to get to 100,” she says. “That is my goal.”
She has worn cabbage, meringue and even frosting as others have taken portraits of Powers in her Yarmouth Port home. Sometimes, the photographer is the person donating the material. Other times it has been her partner Tom Yonce.
Most, Powers says, “are not artists and not photographers.”
That is one of the beauties of art. It gets people “out of their comfort zone and they try something new and make use of a different part of their brain they don’t use every day,” Powers says. “That is expanding yourself.”
It also offers light, levity, and hope in the midst of suffering. Her portraits have been shared with others across the world who are facing similar situations that Powers was.
Yes, was. In January of this year, doctors told Powers she was cancer free. In July, she had her six-month check-up which revealed that all was fine. While relieved, she says, “there are still so many people going through cancer and chemotherapy and I really feel akin to them and I’d like to help them if I can.”
She will continue to do so through her project which received a mini-grant from the AFCC’s Cape Cod Arts Relief Fund. “It was helpful in keeping me moving forward and keeping this project going,” she says.
The compulsion to keep going is also internal. As she writes on her website, “We can heal our bodies with treatment, but we can heal our souls with activity, expression, and the help of others.”
Learn more about Eileen Powers and her art at canyoumakehairforme.com. Learn more about the Cape Cod Arts Relief Fund by clicking this link.