Take Charge

Bringing Cancer to the Canvas

May 24, 2019

Cancer To Canvas

By Sara Bondell

You rarely find pathologists in the clinic or at the bedside. Instead, they’re usually hidden away in labs or offices looking through microscopes and making important decisions that can dictate how a patient is treated. They will probably never meet that patient; instead, a patient is a case or identification number and they will likely never see their face or hear their story.

One day, that all changed for Dr. Marilyn Bui.

When artist Ray Paul was diagnosed with sarcoma in 2011, he wanted to better understand his disease. He met Bui in her office to take a look into her microscope. They had a very insightful conversation about his disease and Bui sent him digital images of his tumor. Paul enlarged and printed out the images, then began to paint over them. What started out as catharsis, turned into much more.

“At that point, I was just doing this to get back to living again, but it ended up taking on a life of its own,” said Paul.

Paul’s art inspired a book called The Healing Art of Pathology, a collection of art and essays about pathology, co-edited by Bui and published by the College of American Pathologists Press. Bui had already wanted to publish a book that raised awareness about pathologists, or whom she calls ‘invisible physicians,’ and when she saw Paul’s art she knew it would be the perfect collaboration.

The book published in 2016 and serves to inspire pathologists, patients, health care professionals and art lovers. Some of Paul’s paintings that are included in the book were put on display in an exhibition called “Uncommon Beauty: Pathology and Other Microscopic Wonders and Realities in Nature” at Roche Tissue Diagnostics’ Ventana Gallery in Arizona. Both Bui and Paul were invited as special guests to attend the opening of the exhibition. The art will be on display until July 9.  

Patient Ray Paul pictured with Dr. Marilyn Bui in front of Paul's artwork.

Since he took a look under the microscope, Paul has had surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. Now, he is almost one-year cancer free, and credits a big part of his resiliency to the art project with Bui. “I was battered down and at a low point, and the interaction with my pathologist brought me back to life,” he said. “My paintings over the past 10 years and the inspiration I have gleaned from my time at Moffitt have come into focus and have given my work direction and resolution.”

It has also given Bui a new perspective. She is truly inspired by patients like Paul, and says she feels like she has finally found her true calling in being a pathologist.

“Now when I get a case, I see it’s a person and I want to work harder for them even though we may never meet,” she said. “Because of my experience with Paul and making The Healing Art of Pathology book, this is no longer a just a job. Now, I am on a mission. I am more willing than ever to go extra mile for my patients, because I know people need pathologists’ help.”