Having terminal stomach cancer is never something you would wish for. But in Jane Saunders' case, cancer has brought her a range of new opportunities - to rediscover her creativity, to build a support network and to focus on what's important in life.
Now she's also giving back to her community, holding a fundraising art exhibition next Friday and Saturday to raise money for Pinc & Steel cancer rehabilitation.
Titled Jane's First Term: reworked pieces from Jane Saunders' art journal on her cancer journey, the exhibition will be held in the former Fabryx shop at Totara Point, Taupō, and all 25 artworks will be for sale.
The seeds of the exhibition were sown when quite soon after Jane's diagnosis 18 months ago. Tam Holden of Zone Physio & Pilates gave Jane a secondhand hard-cover book, and some pens.
"She said, 'you can use this book as a place to put your feelings in, decorate it however you want'," recalls Jane. "And for me, it was just the opening of a door. That was the means to get back in touch with my own art creativity."
Jane says despite being an art teacher at Tauhara College, she never really did a lot of art herself. She was busy with work, exercise and family. Cancer has taken many things away but it did give her the opportunity to rediscover art.
"They say, when you go on your cancer journey, a good thing to do is to get back in touch with what your passions are. My passion was art, but I didn't really know how to do it."
Unnoticed by Tam when she selected the secondhand book, it is called Jane's First Term - an uncannily appropriate title.
"It is about a girl called Jane, who's starting afresh on a new journey. And that's just so apt, because that's what I was on, I was on a new journey as well. And also the word term, because I'm a teacher too.
"I just started painting and drawing on the pages. Some of them reflect my cancer journey. Some reflect when I have been away on holiday. Some of them reflect Covid. Some reflect friends.
"A lot of the time I would put colour down on the paper first. And when I was having chemo at the hospital, I would use pens and draw over top to create the image, and it helped pass the time. When I was recovering at home. I could work in bed on my book because it was small enough to work on. And as I slowly got my strength back, I started working at a desk."
Despite filling the book, Jane hadn't thought about to do with them until she went to an exhibition in January.
"I thought to myself, I really would like to do something with my journal, but I didn't want to pull it apart, because I want to leave it to [daughter] Toni."
Taupō photographer Jeremy Bright offered to photograph the pages from the book and print them out so Jane could rework them to create larger, flat artworks. It was an inspired suggestion.
But Jane admits when the 24 prints arrived on her doorstep, it was almost overwhelming.
"Most of them, I knew what I wanted to do to rework them. So, I would have two or three on the go. And the ones that were drying, I'll be working on another piece. And the ones I had no clue about, I left them till last.
"All the things I've taught the [college] kids I was using myself. So, the artist models that I've taught my juniors I've been using them in my work. And art techniques like scale and repetition, I've used throughout my work. It's been fulfilling. I've really enjoyed it."
Jane did a lot of collage in the artworks, reusing many of the cards and wrapping from the bouquets of flowers that were sent to her when she became sick. She is also fond of glitter and even incorporated elements such as hand sewing into some pieces.
Some of the pieces have themes and others are just whimsical, Jane says.
"Most of them have got stories but some, like the [picture of] mushrooms, I just like mushroom. But they all have meaning. Absolutely."
There are two works that have special significance. One, featuring folded origami cranes, is titled One Wish. A class of students who were friends of Toni's folded 1000 origami cranes for Jane.
"Japanese legend says when you fold 1000 cranes, you grant someone a wish. And when I pass, those will go with me. And that's my thanks to the class for giving me a wish."
The other work, Pink Hearts, is from the hearts people would text.
"It's scary being diagnosed with cancer and people want to be supportive, but they don't know what to do. Someone said to me, get people to text you love hearts. And every time they text you one, they are popping a cancer cell."
One Wish and Pink Hearts will be auctioned live on the night, eight other artworks will have a fixed price at the exhibition, and the rest will be sold by silent auction on the Friday evening and start from $150. There is a range of framed and unframed works. Anything unsold on Friday will be for sale at the exhibition on Saturday.
"What I'm hoping is that we will get heaps of people turning up on Friday, and it will all sell, and then on Saturday for people to come and have a look."
The money raised will be donated to Pinc & Steel, which provides physical rehabilitation for people affected by cancer. It is something Jane has benefited from herself.
"When we thought about having the exhibition, I thought, well, I don't want the money, but what I did want to do was pay it forward.
"Because Pinc & Steel isn't funded, for anyone to go it costs. When Tam and Jonty [from Zone] fundraise, it goes towards the subsidy for a cancer patient, so I want to give them the money for more cancer patients to go."
Jane says going to Pinc & Steel gave her the confidence to be herself and also helped her overcome feeling isolated and withdrawn from the community.
"It gave me the confidence to come to terms with my new body, with how my body had changed and whatever time I have, I want to be strong. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was really sick, really quick. I was put straight into hospital on a feeding tube, and I was only 43 kilos and I could hardly move. I was on a feeding tube for four months, 18 hours a day."
Jane is now back in a normal Pilates class and walking 5km a day. She has also set up a coffee group for cancer patients, called Our Tribe, which she says has been "fantastic".
"It's very secretive, the big C. And it felt people were scared to talk about it as if they were ashamed that you had it. I've got cancer. And if I can help one person feel better about it, being with another group of people that have cancer, it's so worth it."
Jane says once the exhibition is finished, she'd like to find another copy of the book Jane's First Term and start another art series.
The exhibition Jane's First Term will run from 5.30pm to 8.30pm on Friday, August 14 in the former Fabryx shop at Totara Point, Taupō, and from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, August 15. The auction will take place at 6pm on the Friday evening.