Artist sketches ‘amazing’ NHS staff during cancer recovery at pandemic peak

Gillian McLaren was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last spring.

Gillian McLaren
Gillian McLaren

An artist who battled ovarian cancer said she got through the toughest year of her life by sketching NHS staff from her bedside.

Gillian McLaren, 34, who was diagnosed during the height of the pandemic last spring, underwent major surgery and chemotherapy and is now in remission.

Her drawings portray the “amazing people” who got her through her convalescence, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and porters at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

A hospital porter with ‘smiling eyes’ (Gillian McLaren/PA)

The artist, from Stirling, said she wants to draw attention to the signs of ovarian cancer, particularly in younger women, saying she had visited doctors for several years with bowel changes, nausea, and what was thought then to be frequent urine infections.

The keen netball player said she felt healthy and at low risk from cancer, and is now urging people to join Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life events in Scotland this autumn.

Ms McLaren said of her series, Portraits And Tales From A Hospital Bed: “It’s my tribute to them and a way of thanking them all.

“There’s a drawing of the porter who brought me an extra blanket to keep me warm, the cleaner with a lavender spray who lifted my spirits and my consultant who always made me feel safe and knew the right thing to say.

“There have been times when words are not even enough to describe what it’s like having cancer. There’s pain and hurt which sometimes is better expressed through art.”

She added that her major surgery to remove her womb, ovaries and appendix in March last year was almost postponed as Covid-19 cases soared and hospitals strained under the pressure.

Dr Dorin Ziyaie of Ninewells hospital (Gillian McLaren/PA)

But it went ahead, with Ms McLaren saying: “I sat up in bed and fought for that operation with every last bit of energy I had. Covid is awful and was taking lives, but cancer also took lives.

“I was only 33 and had so much to live for. I needed that operation to give me the best possible chance of surviving.

“I had always hoped that one day I’d have a family of my own. I was told I’d lose my fertility during treatment.

“Cancer was threatening my life but it was also taking away my choice to one day have children. That fertility loss felt like a death.”

Her work can be viewed on Instagram at @gillyartist.

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