Blue Beautiful Skies: Art Expresses the Joy of a Cure

In November 2013, 50-year-old Annie Cacciato, wife to Matt and mother of three teenage girls, was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Like everything Cacciato had done in life—such as cofounding Granville Studio of Visual Arts (GSVA), a nonprofit organization that develops creativity through art education— she jumped into treatment with faith and a positive attitude.

She believed that her treatment plan, led by David Carbone, MD, PhD, a cancer survivor and expert in molecular genetics who directs the Thoracic Oncology Center at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), and her commitment to a healthy lifestyle would see her through.

As it turned out, Cacciato is among the 10 percent of lung cancer patients who carry a mutation in the EGFR gene, a circumstance that allows for personalized therapy to more effectively target her cancer.

By June 2014, only six months after she was enrolled on a clinical trial at the OSUCCC – James, her scans showed no sign of the cancer that had filled her lungs just months before.

Cacciato texted her friend and business partner Paul Hamilton, a renowned artist who serves as creative director at GSVA: “I had treatment today and received awesome news. I am in complete remission, which means there are no physical signs of disease. Through grace and my amazing care at The James I have been led through the storm and now have blue beautiful skies again!”

Earlier, while Cacciato was in the midst of her treatment at the OSUCCC – James, a mutual friend had connected Hamilton with David Schuller, MD, vice president of Wexner Medical Center expansion and outreach. Hamilton knew Schuller wanted to fill the new James with inspiring artwork. With Cacciato’s diagnosis, the artist’s desire to contribute a painting had become personal.

Schuller took Hamilton on a tour of the new hospital during its construction and showed him an expansive wall on the ground floor—the place he wanted to install a piece of Hamilton’s artwork.

Initially, Hamilton was taken aback. He had never done a painting of that size. But his artistic wheels began turning, and when he received Cacciato’s text in June, it all came together: He would paint her “blue beautiful skies.”

“As soon as I read the text,” Hamilton says, “I saw the painting in my mind—the style and everything. And I could see this huge expanse of blue beautiful skies that seem to go on forever. The skies are boundless, which is a tribute to Annie’s boundless energy and passion for doing good for other people.”

Hamilton managed to keep his work on Blue Beautiful Skies a secret from Cacciato for months. The artwork is a visual symphony of 96 individually painted squares that collectively offer a sweeping view of blue skies above The James Garden of Hope at Ohio State’s Waterman Farm.

When his work was complete, Hamilton wrote: “Blue Beautiful Skies was inspired by a friend’s courageous battle with lung cancer. The simple text message sent on a summer day exploded into a monumental, breathtaking work filled with joy, humility, hope and gratitude. Annie is so inspiring on so many levels. It seems fitting that she has influenced my latest work. This complete work stands as a reminder for all of us to seek beauty in all things and to share that beauty with those we love.”

Hamilton generously donated the work, valued at $100,000, to the OSUCCC – James.

In November 2014, Cacciato and Hamilton were present at the installation of the painting. They say the feelings it inspired in them were tremendous.

“It’s a new day for cancer. We’re sitting in it,” Hamilton says, gesturing to the impressive lobby of the new James.

“I’m part of the new trend in lung cancer,” says Cacciato. “The old trends say that I’m supposed to be gone. But then I found out that Dr. Carbone has personally contributed to breakthroughs in EGFR research and treatments like mine. There’s always someone who breaks through; there are always new discoveries…I felt confident with Dr. Carbone and his approach that we were going to do this together and build a new trend of proud lung cancer survivors optimistic about our future.”

To support Carbone’s life-changing research, Cacciato and her husband Matt started the Blue Beautiful Skies Fund at the OSUCCC – James and Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death for women and men, yet it lags behind in funding. But through the work of Carbone and colleagues, the OSUCCC – James is a world leader in lung cancer research. Matt and Annie invite all who share the OSUCCC – James vision of a cancer-free world to support the Blue Beautiful Skies Fund and other thoracic research funds at Ohio State.

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