By Angelo G. Garcia
Images by Noel Pabalate
Wearing all black with a single strand pearl necklace hanging around her neck, Jingjing Romero was all smiles during her special night Monday last week. She was smiling, laughing, hugging, and obliging for photo ops with family, friends, and colleagues, who were congratulating her all throughout the event. Her short gray hair is also growing out, which, along with her dark outfit, provides stark contrast to the 65 frames of colorful paintings on the background that hung on the two white walls of The Wellington Center.
She was very happy that night, and rightfully so, because not only did she open her first solo exhibit—called “Postcards from Mamita”—as an artist, she is also now cancer free.
Fighter. Cancer survivor Jingjing Romero
Jingjing Romero with her family
Vietnam: Vietnam Rose
Myanmar: OTW to the Temple
Austria: Tapestry of Wonders
Greece: Owl of Athena
Estonia: Bird Bath
France: Autumn Splendor
Cuba: Fiery Sunset
Cambodia: Mirror Image
Vatican: Holy Dome Silhouette
Lithuania: Hill of Holy Cross
Peru: Dimasalang of Lima
Last year, a biopsy was conducted on the enlarged axillary lymph node in her left breast that was first discovered in 2013. The result concluded that it was metastatic adenocarcinoma or metastatic cancer. And on Nov. 10, 2016, she underwent a modified radical mastectomy and soon after, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. And because of all the medical procedures she was going through, Jingjing was in so much suffering. To ease the pain, she also tried non-traditional medicine like acupuncture.
“Beginning with the third cycle of chemo, I decided on acupuncture treatment thrice a week with Dr. Joran Gancia of HealthDev Foundation since the pain was unbearable. I went for acupuncture until my last radiation treatment in June. Dr. Gancia never failed to reassure me that everything would be all right when I was in terrible pain. Sure enough, every time I left his clinic, I felt so much better I was able to eat and sleep at night,” she recalled.
She, however, needed a distraction from all the treatment and discomfort. She turned to brushes, paint, and her canvas.
“I started learning to paint to fulfill a childhood dream. Though rather late, the timing seemed perfect. I had acupuncture and painting to distract me from the pain and discomfort of chemo and radiation treatments,” she said. “Last March, I braved my first attempt to be tutored by my Art teacher-niece, Erica Abriol-Santos. She taught kids so she was very patient with me. She was always encouraging and she tutored me as I went along experimenting on colors and styles. My waterloo to this day is mixing colors. I still struggle remembering what makes brown!”
The former journalist, who now runs PR firm Stratos Public Relations Consultancy, is used to utilizing her hands to write stories. Now she is also using them to create colorful visual stories. On her free days, she would paint. Her collection slowly grew, 74 artworks now to be exact.
Her painting became more than a hobby, she wanted to create more than just images on canvas, she also wanted to chronicle her life. Jingjing wanted to create a collection of paintings highlighting her travels, specifically the 64 countries she’s visited so far.
“Originally I wanted to write my autobiography highlighting my travels for my grandkids to get to know me better. Now it’s a travel journal. I thought it would be a lasting memento for them to show their kids, too, to remember me as their ‘frequent flyer’ mamita. What a happy coincidence that I was able to include illustrations in this travel journal for them! Suddenly, I am also an accidental artist,” the 65-year-old publicist said.
Some of her artworks are painted from memory like the market scene in Lima, Peru. Her works are a mix of still life, landscapes, animals, and landmarks. Her “Valley in Bloom” is a bright landscape of a flower field in Israel, while “Purple Rain” is her depiction of the purple-blooming jacaranda tree of Brazil, and the “Floating Clusters” gives attention to Belgium’s flowering plant-adorned street lamps. But what ties all of her paintings together are her colors, as she uses vibrant tones.
“I love paintings that uplift. I want the viewer to feel happy and be caught in awe in wander as they go through each stroke or look closely at details of my paintings. Overall, I want the viewer to live with a song in his heart!” Jingjing said.
A total of 64 paintings are currently displayed at The Wellington Center in Bonifacio Global City. As of this writing, she has nearly sold out her collection. Jingjing admits that she did not do the exhibit to make money for herself but to support her scholarship advocacy. Fifteen years ago, she started supporting seminarians from first year high school onward. With hope, she would like to help more seminarians in need.
Painting has brought her joy and fulfillment, to think that she has only started. This is something she recommends to anyone suffering from anything, whether from cancer or otherwise. According to Cancer Research UK, art therapy is a “form of emotional support that can be helpful to people who are struggling with difficult and challenging situations.”
“Painting gives instant gratification. I always find joy in the process of creating a new painting. And there is an even more exhilarating feeling once you finish one. You are so proud of yourself, you feel like singing, especially when family and friends commend you for it!” she said. “At first I showed my early works only to my kids to assure them I’m all right. Then I forwarded them to my different Viber groups, also to let them know how am coping with the pain and discomfort. When I posted the artworks on Facebook, the positive strokes in my comment box made me feel 10 feet tall and made me momentarily forget I was seriously sick.”
But more important, she’s leaving a legacy to her six grandchildren, Nathan, Margaux, Emilie, Callie, Sophie, and Lucy.
“My legacy to my grandchildren will be books of travel vignettes of these countries I have explored with beautiful, memorable images I have painted about the place, food, or feeling. This is going to be my autobiography, focusing on Mamita’s discoveries. The other goal is to whet their appetite for travel, for the world is one big classroom. To be experienced, to be savored. I raised my four kids to be citizens of the world and the grandkids and future generation in my family should do the same.”
Postcards from Mamita will run until Aug. 8 at The Wellington Center, corner of 32nd and 4th, BGC, Taguig City