Painting With Purpose

A Scituate artist discovers a love for art and a way to bring comfort to cancer patients

By Jennifer H. McInerney Photography by Jack Foley

In the devastatingly short span of three years, Scituate resident Becky O’Toole endured the “double lightning strike” diagnoses of breast cancer and acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow. At the hospital, she noticed that all of the cancer patients’ rooms were dark, with the curtains drawn and very few lights on—an atmosphere that did not seem conducive to hope and healing. Facing what turned out to be more than 100 days of treatment in the hospital, O’Toole found comfort in paintbrushes, canvas and acrylic paints.

“If I hadn’t been able to paint throughout that experience, I don’t know what I would have done,” says O’Toole. “It was a form of therapy for me.”

Today, the mother of two young children is in remission, but she continues to consider the plight of patients who are still undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the hospital. She thinks of those darkened rooms, devoid of colorful flower bouquets and other special touches, which are not permitted due to the risk of infection in patients with weakened immune systems.

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During her monthly checkups, O’Toole brings her latest paintings with her and distributes them to patients as a gesture of solidarity. “Everyone in those rooms feels doom—a sense that this could be the end. When I give them my paintings, I’m trying to send them a little bit of light in the darkness.” Blank walls become beautiful windows to the outside world—vibrant reminders that their lives won’t always consist of monitoring vital signs and blood and platelet levels.

O’Toole creates coastal scenes in a variety of sizes, all the way up to 36 by 60 inches. Her serene images are inspired by the seascapes of the South Shore, including Peggotty and Minot beaches in Scituate and the picturesque expanse along Jerusalem Road in Cohasset.

“It makes me so happy to be able to give patients something that reminds them of home, or is a place they can escape to in their imaginations,” says O’Toole.

Nearly three years ago, she launched The Pink Frame, an initiative that enables her to give back to the cancer community. For every painting sold, The Pink Frame donates a portion of the proceeds to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in support of patients and their families. O’Toole also offers smaller ornament-sized paintings in three formats, which have proven to be popular gift options throughout the holiday season.

“The Pink Frame has been a true gift for me,” says O’Toole. “It has brought me into this cycle of goodness that I never thought I’d have the opportunity to be a part of.”

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In addition to selling her artwork, O’Toole has had the opportunity to support many local causes with the donation of her paintings to galas and auctions, including fundraising events for the Scituate Education Foundation, Live Laugh Learn, South Shore Peer Recovery, CORSE Foundation, and various cancer research benefits, among others.

O’Toole continues to discover the curative power of her local community in an effort to help manage her stress. She regularly attends a small-group therapeutic yoga class in Cohasset, led by instructor Trish Hart, for women who are battling various diseases or healing from trauma.

“Being in a room with other women going through similar journeys is amazing,” says O’Toole. “And every morning, we all greet each other with supportive hugs. I cannot emphasize how much this has helped in my recovery.” O’Toole also appreciates the simple pleasure of meandering through the coastal neighborhoods of the South Shore, stopping into shops in Scituate Harbor, grabbing coffee at Lucky Finn Café and gazing into the distance—to the beautiful horizon.

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The Pink Frame paintings by Becky O’Toole are available at Joye in Scituate Harbor, Acquire Good in Hingham Square, The Studio in Duxbury, Tin Bucket Shop in Reading, Maggie’s of Madison, Connecticut, Bozzuto Greene Art in Baltimore, Maryland., and Tampa Bay Interiors in Tampa, Florida. For more information, visit thepinkframe.org.

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