All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for April 2003

Dying from cancer, Ann Cymbalisti finds her 'own world' in her paintings

Her work will soon be exhibited at Ukrainian museum

Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Mike Sadava
The Edmonton Journal

Ann Cymbalisti fills the last moments of her life with vivid colours and bold brush strokes.

Cymbalisti has terminal cancer. It's in her lungs, liver and bones.

She was told last August she had two weeks to live and was sent from the Cross Cancer Institute to the General Hospital's palliative care unit.

She has defied the odds and continues to fulfill her passion for painting.

"Art has brought me so much happiness," she says. "When I'm painting, I'm off in my own little world and I'm so happy when the painting turns out how I envisioned it."

Her work was displayed Monday night in her hospital unit. On April 19, her first formal exhibition since she was a student at Victoria high school 40 years ago will be held at the Ukrainian-Canadian Archives and Museum.

Cymbalisti, 57, knows she might not be around for the opening, but that's not deterring her from finishing a work that has a working title, I Love When the Blue Jays Visit, a title she vows will change by the time it's done.

All of her abstract paintings have optimistic titles such as Golden Moments, Burst of Spring and Celebration.

Titles like these might seem incongruous to some, given the circumstances, but not to Cymbalisti, who has spent the past 20 years fighting adversity with both cancer and multiple sclerosis.

"In life there are golden moments and crosses to bear, but if you put it together, hopefully it's a beautiful life," she says. "People want everything to be great, but you need the great along with all the other problems."

Like many cancer patients, she is in a lot of pain and is on strong painkillers.

That doesn't deter her from painting, sometimes for hours at a time, or from sharing her sense of optimism. Her favourite movie is Pay It Forward, which depicts a young boy who starts off a chain of good deeds.

Her daughter, Marlene Murtha, says her mom always seemed to be at her peak creatively when she was ill.

"When she was sick she couldn't go out in the world, so she would bring the world to her."

Cymbalisti has not been able to walk for more than 20 years as a result of multiple sclerosis.

Attacks of MS left her paralysed from the neck down several times.

As part of her physiotherapy, a person encouraged her to paint small circles. Painting then became a large part of her life, as it had been when she was younger.

Painting in a hospital bed can be a bit tricky, but an artist friend designed an easel that fits on her tray and can be swung around. She has to be economical with water, paints and brushes because she doesn't have a lot of room.

Her biggest regret now is that, being in a hospital, she can't use oil paints, largely because of the fumes from paint and solvents. She sticks to watercolours and acrylics, which don't quite have the range of colours that she visualizes.

Painting not only helps her cope by providing a beautiful distraction but will leave a legacy for people to enjoy.

She has her dark moments but still has a lot to live for.

"You've got to know how to live, and in the end, you've got to know how to let go," she says.

The opening of Cymbalisti's exhibit will be Saturday, April 19 at 2 p.m. at the Ukrainian-Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta, 9543 110th Ave.

© Copyright  2003 Edmonton Journal