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'Bearing' thanks

Sea to Sky Indigenous artist's carving donated to Squamish oncology clinic as thanks

It is joy and gratitude hand-carved in soapstone. 

The dancing bear on a cedar platform was carved by artist Andre Francois, who lives in Mount Currie and is third-generation Cree from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.

The carving was commissioned by local Sherri Green to be donated to the Squamish Hospital oncology clinic in gratitude for her treatment there for ovarian cancer. 

She will be hand delivering it to the clinic today (July 9) at 3 p.m. 

Green, 62, completed her treatment on April 27. 

Her body responded well to chemo, shrinking her tumour, she said, adding she is currently cancer free. 

These days, she feels "stupendous." 

"I am just over the moon," she said.

The oncology clinic’s Dr. Garth Campbell, and the nurses she knows as Jane and Tasha were exceptionally good to her, she said. 

"I have had so much amazing support," she said, noting her husband and friends had her back as well. 

Her diagnosis of Stage 3 cancer the previous fall came as a shock, she said. 

"I have been a healing and health practitioner for over 40 years — and a life coach, so I was taking pretty good care of myself," she said, adding she has learned her cancer was genetic. 

"I came in pretty strong, but it was a big shock." 

She began treatment in November in Vancouver, and then shifted to Squamish for remaining chemo sessions. 

"That was such a blessing," she said. 

Touched by the gesture

 Not surprisingly, the team at the oncology department was touched by the gesture of the carving. 

“The soapstone carving is a spectacular gesture and greatly appreciated by the team in the Oncology Clinic and our staff at Squamish General Hospital (SGH).” said Sean Parr, interim vice-president, of coastal community of care in a statement to The Squamish Chief.  “The oncology team at SGH continues to deliver exceptional care in our region, and we are so pleased to hear that one of our patients is doing well and wants to give thanks in such a generous way. On behalf of Vancouver Coastal Health, we would also like to thank Andre Francois for carving such a wonderful piece for the hospital. We look forward to putting it on display for all to enjoy.”

Building a bridge

Green said building a bridge between her roots in complementary medicine and western medicine was a journey in trust. 

"Coming from such alternative and complementary medicine for so long, with herbs and diets, it was really something for me to do chemo," she said. "I learned to bridge both. I learned to really receive the best from both." 

Living through cancer has made her even more authentic with her clients, she noted.

"It has so deepened my compassion," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. "It is so different when you go through it. It is very visceral; it is physical. My work with people very much deepened and I am helping people with more at that level." 

She plans to do some volunteer work with other cancer patients, she said. 

Artist's perspective

Green said her husband Colin Bruce Geary had talked of Francois, and they both thought he would be the perfect artist to craft the gift for the Squamish clinic. 

"I was thrilled when she asked me. I was very moved to do that," Francois said over the phone from the site of his day job as a roofer with Altitude Roofing, owned by Geary. 

Francois said from conception to finish the 38-centimeter tall (15-inch) piece took about three weeks.

Stone carving is comforting, Francois said, adding that for some reason bears are his favourite things to carve. 

"It is a hobby, but then it is more than a hobby because if I have a rough week and it has been tough, all I have to do is go and start grinding on a piece of stone — it is almost like therapy for me."

Francois started carving at eight years old with his father, professional artist Howard Moose. 

While Francois said he sees himself more as a hobby artist than a professional one, he was previously commissioned to carve for the Officer Protocol from the Manitoba legislative building in Winnipeg. These sculptures went to the prime minister as greeting gifts for other national leaders during travel abroad. 

He said, thinking of Green's situation and her recovery, the bear seemed the perfect thing to create. 

The soapstone is from northern B.C. and the cedar is from near Mount Currie. 

Francois' carvings can be found at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

He can also be reached by email at: agfrancois@hotmail.com.

 

**Please note, this story has been updated since it was first posted with a statement from Vancouver Coastal Health and new photos from the presentation.