Janine Elliott’s submission to the Inner Workings Art Show is titled “Music for Life: Darren Hutz.” The video slideshow is a tribute to her son, Darren, who died from a brain tumour at the age of 28. (Video: Janine Elliott)

The famous artist Pablo Picasso once said, "The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape…"

For Janine Elliott, it came from a song.

At the Hundredth Meridian by iconic Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip is the musical accompaniment to Janine's video slideshow submission to The 3rd Annual Pencer Centre Inner Workings Art Show at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

The exhibition, hosted at The Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Tumour Centre, showcases the artwork of patients, families, caregivers, and staff affected by brain tumours. The Pencer Centre is the largest multidisciplinary brain tumour centre in Canada.

Janine, who is a member of the centre's Patient & Family Advisory Committee, submitted her piece as a tribute to her son, Darren Hutz.

"My son Darren was a musician and composer. I stumbled upon a recording of Darren performing At the Hundredth Meridian, and it inspired me to create this video because he was a big Tragically Hip fan," Janine says.

"I used an online app to combine Darren's recording with photos I collected of him before diagnosis and during his treatment for a brain tumour."

Darren's story

On Boxing Day in 2005, Darren suffered a seizure and was taken to hospital.

He was diagnosed with an astrocytoma which evolved into a glioblastoma in 2013, the same type of cancer that struck Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie earlier this year.

Glioblastomas are tumours that arise from astrocytes—the star-shaped cells that make up the supportive tissue of the brain. These tumours are considered highly malignant (cancerous) because the cells reproduce quickly, supported by a large network of blood vessels.

Darren would undergo two surgeries performed by Dr. Mark Bernstein at Toronto Western Hospital, followed by chemotherapy at the Princess Margaret.

Motherboard in Red and Blue
Darren’s wife, Margaret Mansell, submitted a piece from her series of circuit board paintings titled “Motherboard in Red and Blue, 2012.” Darren and Margaret had only been dating for seven months when he had his first seizure. (Photo: UHN)

For a time Darren did well, Janine says, facing his disease "with courage and resilience." After battling courageously for eight years, Darren died at the age of 28.

Healing through art

Janine says it took a while before she could feel anything but pain and loss. Making the slideshow has helped with her grief.

Like Janine, many who submitted pieces to the show have used art as a way to cope, grieve, and celebrate life.

This year's show featured 26 displays by 24 artists. The exhibition included artwork in a variety of media – from paintings, sketches, and collages to a knit shawl and Christmas crafts.

"It has been a pleasure for The Pencer Centre to host this very moving and inspiring event for the past three years," says Maureen Daniels, nurse and coordinator at the centre. She is also the founder of the Inner Workings Art Show.

"There are pieces in the show that have been created by patients, by family members of patients and even some of the staff.  The art on display is as wonderfully diverse and unique as our patient population."

Other Hand 
/Waiting Rain
(R): Khenan Carmichael, a radiation therapist, submitted a piece called “The Other Hand” created to “invoke the viewer’s thoughts on possible interpretation.” (L): Erin Morgan, a neuro-oncology clinical fellow, submitted a knitted shawl based on a pattern called “Waiting for Rain.” The name reminded her of the predicament of many brain tumour patients waiting for a new treatment to be discovered. (Photos: UHN)​

Moving forward

Finding Darren's recording was a milestone in learning to cope with this enormous loss, Janine says.

"Hearing about Gord Downie in the news was hard because it reminded me of Darren," she says. "One of the last things Darren said to me was, 'My struggle is all I have.' Like Gord, he performed until he couldn't. He never gave up and I always hold on to that."

"It's hard to put into words what it's like to lose a child. There will always be tears, but now I can celebrate his life through music and art." 

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