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Published on April 18, 2016

For Concord Cancer Patient, It’s Paint Versus Pain

Ellen MezibovEllen Mezibov’s personal prescription for cancer pain includes as few pills as possible and a large dose of paint.

The pills help manage her pain. The paint and her vivid imagination take Ellen to another place emotionally. For a few hours a day, that place includes portraits, magical islands, castles and city scenes.

Painting is my savior, my escape. When I am painting, I don’t think about pain or my situation,” Ellen said of her new hobby. “I don’t feel depressed at all. I am living in another world and the other world is my painting.

Ellen, who is 69, was diagnosed with widespread cancer in 2011 when living in Massachusetts. She and her husband, Leo, moved to Concord in 2012, where she is now cared for in her home by Capital Region Palliative Care and Hospice, a collaborative effort of Concord Hospital and Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association.

Their home is filled with dozens of her paintings, a tribute to a craft she began just two years ago after taking a painting class while on a vacation cruise.

“I was the worst of the worst in the class,” she said. “But when I came home, I started to paint.”

Ellen grew up in Lithuania, then moved to Moscow, where she practiced dentistry for 14 years before moving to the United States in 1988 and practicing for 20 more. She prescribed as little medication as possible to help her patients manage pain and follows the same guideline herself.

“Everyone has his or her own pain threshold,” Ellen said. She hopes people suffering with pain will hear her story and “look inside themselves to see if they can do anything — painting, writing, knitting, crocheting, walking, swimming — whatever they can do themselves to help manage their pain. It is not true that only medication can help.”

Ellen’s works cover her walls, stairwell and painting room, where a bed is covered with drawings and magazine pages she saves for possible painting ideas.

She only can sit for a few hours a day, so she works fast, usually completing a painting in a couple of days.

She produces art — and relief.

“Sometimes I wake up at night in pain, so I tiptoe to the room where I paint, and I paint, sometimes an hour or two hours, to release the pain, then I can go to sleep. It is very, very helpful,” she said.

Ellen is telling her story to be helpful to others experiencing pain.

“My question to everyone is: What can you do to draw your mind away from the pain? Sometimes you want to lay down and do nothing, but that can make you feel very, very sick.”

Ellen said she and everyone in the Concord area are fortunate to be served by Concord Hospital. She chose not to receive traditional treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy, instead she was treated for pain management at the Payson Center for Cancer Care for about a year and a half. Ellen continued pain management care for another 15 months with her physician, Dr. Lyn Lindpaintner, before she was referred to the hospice/palliative care she now receives at home.

“The people at the Hospital are very kind and listen to your situation fully and with an open heart,” she said. “You feel very lucky.”

Capital Region Palliative Care and Hospice focuses on relieving pain, anxiety and other debilitating symptoms of serious illness to help patients gain the strength to carry on with daily life.

“I am not saying people should be without a doctor’s help or without medication. All I want to say is that having an escape such as painting is something that can help and it is very powerful,” Ellen said.

Ellen’s paintings are very pleasing, especially portraits with penetrating eyes that invite viewers to imagine what the subjects might be feeling, but she plays down the quality. To her, the value of her work goes beyond what ends up on her canvas.

“I am never going to be a good painter, but who cares? All I care about is that it is serving a purpose,” she said. “I have the ability to be for a few hours without thinking about pain. That’s what is the most important — to find that escape.”

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