Budding artist shares struggle to overcome cancer and lasting impact
Cancer is a word that strikes fear in all who hear the diagnosis. Imagine being a teen and having your doctor deliver the news. There are many people who face that challenge just as their lives are beginning and it often shapes who they are today.
The world is like a blank canvass for Austin Rodriguez. It's full of opportunity. The 29 year old Sioux City man discovered his passion for painting about a year ago.
"Ability to overcome what I always thought I couldn't do," said Rodriguez.
He's already overcome a lot in his life. At just 13 years old, severe headaches led doctors to diagnose him with a malignant brain tumor. The tumor was the size of a golf ball.
"Said there's some type of growth in your head and we need to get that out of there, Austin. I asked if the surgery is dangerous and he said it can be."
Cancer is a word that's hard to comprehend when you're in 7th grade.
"I knew that it was a sickness. I knew that it killed people. I knew it was definitely not a good thing," he said.
Our cameras were there in 1997 when Austin underwent surgery in Sioux City.
"See you when I wake up with no tumor," he said from a gurney as he was being wheeled into the operating room.
The operation was a success. It led to intense chemotherapy and then the discovery of a second tumor. A second surgery was followed by radiation.
"No medicine taken comes without a price. You know it's going to help one area, but it affects another," said Austin.
It killed the cancer, but since the disease struck during puberty, Austin still copes with several side effects.
"Chemo blew out the cartilage in my knees. So I basically have bone on bone in there right now," he said. "Thyroid gland, pituitary gland issues, some testosterone. I take replacement for that, little things like that, that basically normal functioning levels are a little bit low for me so I take some supplements to try to help that."
Through it all, he's never lost his focus or his faith.
"You know obviously I'll take these side effects over not being here," said Rodriguez. "I would get very sad and down sometimes, but the main thing I wouldn't stay down. I would not stay in a depressed state like many people do. I got back up. I said God's going to heal me. It's going to be alright."
Part of his healing now comes from painting. His outlook on life is colored by cancer. Each brush stroke offers a new beginning which blends the lessons of the past and finds peace in the beauty it reveals.
He said, "Continue to do everything you can to the fullest every day. Don't let any day go by because you never know when you might get that word, that diagnosis that you don't want to hear."
Austin Rodriguez recently sold his first painting during an event at the Sioux City Art Center and will soon hold his first Art Open House.
He still hopes to one day be an ordained minister. He's been cancer free for 15 years.
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