Fifteen years ago, Catherine Bicknell was drawn to a building adorned with Pink and Silver balloons, and felt compelled to walk inside. Catherine had recently moved to Pasadena from Washington and was looking for a local oncologist to monitor her health following her history with cancer. Little did Catherine know that stepping into CSCP’s office would lead to years of volunteerism with us, and a reputation in which she is known as the “gem” of CSCP, according to one participant.
Catherine, who hails from England and had a long career as an architect and professor, was in disbelief when she was first diagnosed with cancer. She felt as though cancer hit the “wrong person at the wrong time,” and her grueling treatment left her feeling well only 5 days out of every 5 weeks by the time that she recuperated from her chemo infusions. Catherine remembers undergoing treatment as a true “endurance test.” During those coveted 5 day periods of wellness, Catherine, a professional photographer, was hired to shoot a documentary book in Butte, Montana. She loaded her car with her dog and photography equipment and drove across Idaho and into Montana. While in Butte, she found herself immersed in creative work, living simply and solely out of her car. On her drive back to Washington, the lingering impact of her time in Butte occupied her mind, and it was only when she got home that she realized that she did not hold a single thought about cancer while away. At this point, Catherine consciously chose to “identify as a photographer, not a cancer patient.”
Fast forward a few years, and Catherine found herself stepping into CSCP after being intrigued by the balloons, and once she learned about our organization, wanted to find out how she could volunteer her time. After a period of serving as a front desk volunteer (a job that Catherine felt she could never master due to the inarguably complicated phone system), Catherine began to teach photography classes to CSCP participants. The class was incredibly well-received, with 26 participants attending the first session, and Catherine has continued to teach 2 weekly photography classes at CSCP for the past 14 years. In addition to teaching her classes, Catherine has become a sort of resident photographer at CSCP, creating beautiful canvases that adorn our walls, contributing images for our annual reports, and shooting staff when needed. Catherine has given immensely to CSCP, and yet when speaking to her she communicates a deep gratitude for CSCP and the people that she encounters while here. While Catherine strives to foster her students’ photography skills in her classes, her class is also much more than developing photographic techniques. Catherine shared that her class often “starts with visual stuff, but quickly leads to how [the students] are doing, and how they’re feeling.” All those years ago when shooting the documentary in Butte, Catherine realized that the “visual experience becomes a whole world,” and she endeavors to create a space in her classes where individuals diagnosed with cancer can temporarily leave behind their current reality and enter a new world through photography. Creativity calls for an openness and vulnerability, and Catherine has the gift of establishing a space where participants feel uninhibited in expressing themselves, both through art and through narrating their experiences. Catherine feels that, following her experiences with cancer, the “biggest gift in life [she’s] been given is a second life,” and Catherine uses that gift by giving back to the community at large in remarkable ways. Catherine’s students offered testimony about their experiences with her at CSCP:
“I appreciate Catherine’s help with he technology of saving, moving, editing, enhancing, and printing the photos I took on my iPhone. I learned a lot in her class! “
“I have been attending Photography classes at the Cancer Support Center for close to a year. Catherine is always a warm, engaging woman who delights in encouraging the students in the class. Whether the students have more, or less ability, she always directs her comments to point out the positive aspects of the work. She often explains how, with a little manipulation, or altered perspective, the way to improve the photo’s presentation. She is always positive, even in her criticism! And that is a gift that too few people have to share.”
“Catherine Bicknell’s photographic workshops, Focus on Fun, has guided and enhanced my photography skills by playing with camera images. Her knowledge has helped bring out my creative juices through group sharing of weekly images. It is just a wonderful fun experience seeing other individual’s shared photos through their eyes. It does not matter what type of camera you own. It is what I see through the viewfinder that really promotes my enthusiastic interest. With sincere appreciate to Catherine!”
CSCP is incredibly grateful to Catherine for her years of service and dedication to our organization. We recognized her volunteerism with CSCP at our Anniversary Party on August 26th, where she donated a beautiful new canvas to CSCP, pictured below.