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Illustrations convey man's emotions over leukemia

In his mind's eye he is a heavily muscled warrior standing atop gnarled trees and sometimes alongside giant, fierce lizards or lions. They are visions that illustrator Roel Wielinga sets to paper, and they show how he looks at his battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

Sitting in a room at Medical College of Georgia Hospital for another round of chemotherapy, Mr. Wielinga, 59, of Thomson, and his wife, Marian, share his journey through illustrations.

"This is like a visual diary," Mrs. Wielinga said.

The drawings often feature a heroic figure that Mr. Wielinga thinks of as "my mystical self." There is the one titled Theory, with flying bricks surrounding the protagonist and a mushroom cloud in the corner.

Born on the island of Java in 1950, Mr. Wielinga thinks fallout from nuclear testing in the South Pacific could be one reason he came down with cancer. The houses seemingly crumbling in the drawing are symbolic of what happened after his diagnosis.

"When you get something like that, your world kind of falls apart on you," Mr. Wielinga said.

In another, the warrior stands above a pool where a much thinner, paler version is reflected. It came at a time when the nurses felt he was pushing himself too much and in danger of making himself worse.

"They told me to look at myself," Mr. Wielinga said. "When I looked down at the reflection, what I saw was my skeletal self."

"His sick self," Mrs. Wielinga added.

"I had to rethink the way I was doing things," he said.

His low point is easy to spot in the collection. In that drawing from early October, the warrior is slumped on his knees, his sword embedded in the ground behind him, useless. He had just been released from the hospital after a five-week stay that included a battle with a nasty bacteria. He got sick again and had to return to the hospital.

To combat any pangs of self-pity, he wrote on the drawing, "If it's not you, who do you want it to be?"

His wife is there in the drawings, too. In one called Find Comfort With the Cocoon, he is a buglike figure in a bedlike cocoon with a graceful, elaborate butterfly perched on the edge.

"This part here is my wife," he said, pointing to the butterfly. In another drawing, Find Your Serenity, she is by his side as the two gaze off into the distance.

"It's very important," Mr. Wielinga said. "You have to find peace within yourself."

After this latest chemotherapy, one more is scheduled in January and then two years of monitoring, he said. As for the drawings, Mr. Wielinga would like for them to remain behind, hanging on the hospital walls, as inspiration for future patients.

"If I can help one person," he said, "then I think I've done my job here."

Web posted on Thursday, December 17, 2009

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