Dr. Petr recommended art therapy for Ms. Jackson postoperatively, following resection of an acoustic neuroma. Ms. Jackson discovered a talent for and love of painting that aided in her recovery and has become one of her greatest passions.
As reported by the Cultural Council on February 9, 2018.
On November 29, 2010, Jacksonville native Melody Jackson was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, a slow growing benign tumor that develops on the main nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain. Branches of this nerve directly influence your body’s balance and sense of hearing. As the tumor grows, it creates pressure that often results in hearing loss, ringing in your ear, dizziness, and loss of balance.
Jackson underwent her first surgery to remove the tumor on May 25, 2011. Going into the surgery, Jackson thought that she’d be free to return to her normal life once the tumor was removed. The damage was done, however, and even after surgery, hearing didn’t return to her right ear. Jackson continued to suffer from vestibular imbalance as well as nystagmus and oscillopsia, two visual disorders. She also received the additional diagnosis of chiari malformation, structural defects in the base of the skull and cerebellum – the part of the brain that controls balance.
As a result of these maladies, Jackson’s day-to-day life was impacted beyond measure. She began to feel like life was imploding. Jackson was no longer able to drive and tasks like standing and walking were impossible without the aid of a rolling walker, which restricted her mobility even further.
2011 is also the year that Jackson began painting. Her doctors suggested that she paint as a form of therapy. Jackson picked up a paintbrush and soon found that painting calmed her eyes and brain.
Eventually, Jackson underwent spinal fusion surgery. It was during her recovery process that a second acoustic neuroma was discovered. This abnormality exhibited non-standard traits. Instead of being slow growing, the benign tumor was rapidly advancing. Jackson was advised by her doctors that radiology treatment was her only option. She underwent six treatments between November 2016 and January 2017.
As part of radiology treatment, Jackson was outfitted with a mesh mask that was molded around her face and head and then secured to a table to prevent movement during treatment. For her submission to Through Our Eyes 2018, Jackson wanted to incorporate the mask into her work. Still living with restricted mobility, she reached out online to Overstreet Ducasse for advise. Not only did Ducasse respond, but he scheduled to visit Jackson at her home.
Ducasse coached Jackson on her piece, and as a result, pushed the artist and her work to an entirely new level. Ducasse also enlisted photographer Clinton Eastmanto help in the collaboration. Eastman, a figure well known within Jacksonville’s art scene, captured images of Jackson wearing the mask, which were then incorporated into the work.
Jackson embodies resilience. In the past eight years, she has gone from being able bodied, to disabled, to differently challenged; continuously defining a new normal for her every day life. In conjunction with painting as therapy, a substantial amount of her recovery is because of her choice to openly communicate with her doctors, therapists, and loved ones.
Jackson has two pieces currently on exhibit at The Ritz Theatre and Museum. The mixed media pieces are titled Mask Resistance and Resilient Resurrection. Her work is included in Through Our Eyes and will be on display through June 8, 2018.
My healing began with art and the creative process.
I had my first acoustic neuroma removed at Shands Jacksonville on May 25th, 2011. My Neurosurgeon, Dr. M. Petr, ordered a therapy for me called Art at Bedside. Dr. Petr is an artist himself. He is also my unsung hero and I credit him with somehow passing on his gift to me.
Lauren Corbin was my therapist and she offered what she called a “creative distraction.” She stepped into my room with a white ridged dixie plate and a primary color palate. My cousin, Caroline, noticed my response to the therapy and she bought buckets of paint, stencils, and canvas. This therapy became my new normal.
Art remains a part of my healing process to this day. It lessens my depression, pity parties, and keeps me focused on life and moving forward.
It gave me confidence to believe that my idea could work. As a differently challenged person, the experience redefined opportunity for me. At first I was afraid to reach out to Overstreet. But, I kept reminding myself of when he spoke about his art during an event at CoRK. I knew that if I asked, he could guide me in formulating my ideas.
As I said before, I watch quite a few TEDx talks. Nardwuar helped me see that all one has to do is ask. I asked Overstreet to help and he said yes.
The collaboration with Clinton is passion personified. He worked various angles and made suggestions and always remained in the moment. He was able to capture my struggles as I began to take off the mask. The only sound was the camera shutter opening and closing. I was focused on enduring the unbearable, once again. This time for my creation. Clinton was able to record every nuance of that journey.
Seeing others interact with my work has broadened my narrative. This is my gift to each person who hugged me, cried with me, or just shared their stories of survival and the horror they went through. It’s almost like being in a weightless chamber, all things are new.