Healing with Heart, an exciting new initiative of the Cancer Foundation for New Mexico, makes its debut at the 2023 Sweetheart Auction as part of our 20th anniversary kickoff. The program pairs cancer survivors or current patients with artists in a collaboration intended to produce compelling visual messages of healing and hope.

Each artwork is a storytelling expedition. It begins with dialogue; an honest, open exploration of the subject’s journey through cancer; and mutual understanding in which the stories of artist and subject intersect and inform each other. There are no rules. The results are personal, provocative and – we hope – inspirational and enduring.

We launched Healing with Heart with four collaborative pairings, which produced four powerful works of art. But we believe this initiative has enormous potential to affect the lives of many who face similar journeys or care for those who do. To that end, the Cancer Foundation will be expanding Healing with Heart as we find other artists and patients — or caregivers – who are willing to share the gifts of their talents, journeys, insights and learnings.

“One Road”
Nelly-Joy Irakoze, in collaboration with Les Samuel

Acrylic on canvas, 36” x 60”
Nelly-Joy and Les

Journey Through Cancer
Leslie (Les) Lewis Samuel

I have survived cancer for 15 years. I was diagnosed in 2008 with an aggressive prostate cancer that has now metastasized to my bones. I am currently still in treatment, but the options are diminishing. My life experience journeying with cancer has made me more aware of the time I might have left with my wife and other important people in my life!

This journey with cancer has made me acutely aware of how I show up in life with my wife and others! The realization that I want ‘more time’ to live has fortified my will to do so. This journey has not been easy, but I see only one road. For others who are facing the diagnosis of cancer and not ready to die, they must fight!

I decided to take part in this initiative … because I viewed it as an honor! To be asked to do something that might help others is something I would not say “no” to.

Artist Statement
Nelly-Joy Irakoze

The first time I met Les Samuel, there was an instant connection. There is something special about him! I felt, and still feel like, it was all meant to be! My angels always guide me to meet my tribe. Les is! He represents that father figure in my life – the father I never got a chance to meet. Les represents my father with a strong and healthy mind. 

When I was asked to make something to honor my friend Les, it was another reminder of why I was meant to be in his life. I’m so grateful to his beautiful wife, Lisa, for being the vessel to connect me and Les and for introducing me to this incredible person:  Les. What a gift, Lisa. You have been my dearest sister.

Les has been a part of the creative process, and all the elements, colors and pieces used in the painting have been chosen by Les himself. He also has come up with a name for the painting: “One Road.”

Nelly-Joy Irakoze was born and raised in Burundi, Africa, and has had a lifelong love for color, style and texture. The horror and fear surrounding the Burundi/Rwanda genocide in 1993-94 and the ensuing deliverance strike in her a strong emotional chord of feelings that moment in her life produced. These are expressed in her art.


“Bold and a Little Bit Crazy”
Carol Miraben, in collaboration with Valerie Hamilton

Art quilt, 55” h x 77” w
Valerie (left) and Carol

Journey Through Cancer
Valerie Hamilton

It started, as cancer often does, with a lump. I saw an expression of concern on my doctor’s face a split second before she delivered the news. … The drive home from the doctor’s office took about 25 minutes. By the end … I knew I had the wherewithal to fight the battle ahead. I knew I could draw strength from my supportive family, my wonderful friends, and my workmates at my school. … Radiation lasted six weeks, and, when it was over, I knew I—we—all who gave strength—had succeeded. …

Suspecting all cancer survivors are affected similarly by the journey, I’ll say for me that I have greater gratitude for our country’s medical expertise, for each day and for each person, known or new, with whom I interact. Simply being alive, even with life’s devastating slings and arrows, is a gift.

When asked to participate in Healing with Heart, my first thought for an artist who would best interpret my path was wonderful friend and sister survivor Carol Miraben. Carol’s ability to express through fabric is impressive and unique. … the piece … manages to speak to both the difficulty of the journey and the joy of succeeding. … (It) reflects both the depth of her talent and the depth of our friendship.


Artist Statement
Carol Miraben

When Val approached me about participating, I didn’t have to think twice.  Val is a good friend, and we share a passion for the Cancer Foundation’s mission. Like Val, I am a survivor. At the beginning of the project, I asked Val to give me five words that describe her cancer journey: Confident. Engaged. Supported. Normal. Strong. I did the same without first seeing Val’s words.  Here are my words: Alone.  Angry. Alive. Transformed. Grateful. Our journeys were so very different, as I suspect is the case with every cancer patient.

I thought about Val as I worked, and I thought about my own experience.  As the work developed, I felt closer and closer to Val.  Many of the iconic shapes in the quilt represent our respective journeys: a mountain, a seed pod, a staircase, a cross, a timeline, family photos.

As I worked, I wrote five words that described my creative journey: Strength. Clarity. Time. Tenacity. Color. More importantly, the words describe Val herself and the friend I have come to know and love even more. Finally, as I completed the piece I wrote the following, which describes Val, me and our precious friendship:  Bold and a Little Bit Crazy.

Carol Miraben is a mixed-media abstract paint and textile artist who continually evolves and pushes her creative boundaries.  carolannart.com


“Beacon of Light”
Andrea Bonfils, in collaboration with Marcia Shaffer

Oil and encaustic on wood, 36.5” h x 80.5” w x 1.75” d
Andrea Bonfils
Marcia Shaffer

Journey Through Cancer
Marcia Shaffer

On March 9, 2021, my world as I knew it turned upside down. The pain in my left leg fast resulted in two surgeries, followed by a Stage lV Osteosarcoma diagnosis. Too much time had elapsed from the first symptoms, expediting the cancer to metastasize in my lungs. I had been an avid runner (10 marathons) biker, swimmer and skier. I was being told that if the first rounds of chemotherapy were successful enough to slow the growth, I would lose my left leg below the knee. After four vicious rounds in the hospital, my amputation took place June 15, 2022.

Note:  A second amputation followed, and a herculean fight for life endured until Marcia passed away peacefully on November 15, 2022.

Listen to Andrea Bonfils’ interview with
blog author
Bunny Terry.

Artist Statement
Andrea Bonfils

“Beacon of Light” aptly describes Marcia Shaffer. Despite the heavy weight of life’s storms and chaos, Marcia generates an energy and peacefulness that is rare and beautiful. She is the blue sky, sun and calm before, during and after the storm. …

Marcia’s electric smile, deep faith, hope and persistence are what came to mind when contemplating how to represent her in an art piece. Marcia mainly desired a focus on light. We broadly discussed how these moments of dark, light, pain and pleasure lead to a true balance. Oddly … as we were editing the evolving narrative and painting together, I was more focused on her pain and she was more focused on her pleasure!  She was painting with angels.

As Marcia said, “We all want to be important in our lives, leave a legacy, make an impact.” “Beacon of Light” reflects the intense energy generated by her hope and positivity and …. is one of her many gifts to us. … Marcia’s greatest wish is for us to “feel her faith, humility, love, joy and gratitude.” If I could inspire any portion of her being through this art piece, I am deeply fulfilled. …

Andrea Bonfils is an artist with a master’s degree in clinical social work.  She uses a wide range of materials, including found objects, photography, and encaustic wax, to create works that investigate the convergence of nature and humanity. www.andreaartstudio.com

Tracy King, in collaboration with Jock Soto

Acrylic and oil on canvas, 48” x 48” x 2”
Tracy and Jock

Journey Through Cancer
Jock Soto

In 2018, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was a hard year for me. I had to go through radiation for nine weeks. The experience affected me hideously. The Cancer Foundation for New Mexico was amazing. They put me up at a hotel directly behind the Cancer Center, except on weekends, when my husband, Luis, and I could go home. The Sweetheart Auction raises money for patients who have to travel far for treatment. I couldn’t have done it without the Cancer Foundation’s support.

I really don’t know how people do it, five days a week every morning. Luis would pack up the car with our pillows and sheets. We would take pans, towels and everything that would make me feel comfortable.

I remember when I was told about my cancer in one sentence by a doctor in Angel Fire, as if he were bored. What has helped me on this journey is my husband. Both my parents passed from cancer, and my brother just had his prostate removed. What helps is talking to people and saying, “Please get checked.” Taking part in this initiative is to show what cancer does, and my hope that someday in my lifetime there will be a cure.   Plus, showing the beauty of people who have survived and how they use their lives to continue doing what they love to do.

Listen to Jock Soto and Tracy King speaking with
blog author
Bunny Terry.

Artist Statement
Tracy King

There are some elements of character that create soaring outcomes during our journey:  the ability to dream; a commitment to continuous learning; drive; stamina; facing fears; finding your passion; doing what you love; nurturing relationships; caring for your mind, body and spirit; and never giving up hope. Jock Soto is all of these things and more … Not only is he a tremendous human being, but he achieved the highest heights as a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet … He has one of the most storied careers in ballet history. His Indigenous roots propelled him to new heights and faraway places, only to circle back … to his native land in New Mexico. …

This piece … depicts the strength and beauty of fully embracing both the light and the dark in one’s life, and that by doing so we often find that the light shines through with even more radiance. It is a courageous balancing act and, in Jock’s case, a beautiful dance. …

Jock and I … both chose to take the path less traveled in life – one that challenged social convention and has stayed connected to the heart. … we have more in common than meets the eye. … It is a story about meeting each other somewhere beyond ourselves to gain an understanding and appreciation for the power of manifesting dreams, dedication and hard work; leaning into life; and finding a way, despite challenges, to reside in the light. Our greatest hope is that through our collaboration and Jock’s personal healing, you might feel a glimmer of magic and hope through our creation.  

After 26 years in the fashion industry, Tracy King reached a crossroad in her life. Relocating to Mexico, she spent the next eight years immersed in becoming a full-time artist. She recently moved to Santa Fe.  tracykingstudio.com