My mother, Tonya Webster, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2016. My grandmother (her mother) and I were her personal caretakers as she lived with us. To be honest, I was terrified. I was constantly on edge. At the time, I was taking care of my mom while also attending college full-time. It was an emotional roller-coaster of things getting better before they got worse tenfold.
In spring of 2019, I made an original fibre art piece modelled after my mother titled, “Mastectomy”. It’s made of resist dyed fabric wrapped in wire. I made the piece to show how her body was beautiful despite all she had endured in order to survive; while also educating people about the impact of breast cancer has on the human body.
“Mastectomy” is the piece I am the proudest of. I found the act of turning something horrific into something beautiful. I use art as my methods of coping. Anger. Fear. Helplessness. Doom. All my negative emotions were channelled into making this piece. My mother had found my work of art a form of healing and comfort in her own body.
The cancer spread to her liver, uterus, ovaries, and bones. During the same time, I made a relief print for a printmaking class modelled after her titled, “Battle Scars”. These battle scars included her mastectomy, two chemo ports removed (because the first one caused a blood infection), and a hysterectomy, indicated by the five marks on her stomach. I wanted to convey the discomfort she had with her own body, the struggles she took in order to survive.
On July 12, 2019, Tonya passed away due to liver failure from the cancer at the age of 43. This month was the one-year anniversary of her passing. You never expect a loved one to die. This was my first time witnessing the active signs of death firsthand. My grandmother already has due to losing my grandfather (Tonya’s father) to cancer in 2006.
After her passing, I continue to exhibit “Mastectomy” to promote breast cancer awareness and body positivity in her memory. In May 2020, I graduated from Alverno College with my BA in Studio Art and Art History. Usually, there would be a group senior art exhibition taken place for the graduating class of 2020. Due to COVID, the show has been postponed to the fall. “Mastectomy” will be included in my senior group show. Afterwards, I hope to offer the piece to Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic at Aurora Sinai in Milwaukee as a way to offer emotional support of staff, patients, and their families.
Tonya was never afraid of dying, she was afraid of leaving everyone behind. She is dearly missed. May she rest in peace.
Felonee Marie Webster is a visual fibre artist based in Milwaukee, WI. In May of 2020, she had graduated with honors from Alverno College and received her BA in studio Art and Art History. Felonee had lost her mother, Tonya Webster, to metastatic breast cancer on July 12, 2019 at the age of 43. Tonya was a loving mother, grandmother, and cat momma. Tonya enjoyed writing, listening to music, and going to concerts. She remained strong throughout her battle until the very end. Her story and experiences have been an inspiration and will always be remembered.