When Nandita Kothari walked into the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in 2018, art was not on her radar. The breast cancer survivor was healing from a mastectomy and came to LivingWell with a friend to learn more about it. She tried a yoga class, enjoyed it, and was drawn to the art classes. She signed up for a class and was hooked.
“When I do art, I don’t think about cancer anymore. I feel so relaxed and peaceful. I learn how to not think about anything. I just think about the art,” said Kothari.
Kothari dabbled in art as a teen growing up in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. She painted on table linens, saris and fabric to make wall hangings, but wasn’t able to find much time for art while pursuing her undergraduate and master’s degrees to become a lab and radiologic technician. While working in India, she met her husband and they moved to the United States soon after. Kothari continued working in Chicago and New York City until she and her husband settled in a suburb west of Chicago to raise a family.
“I really enjoyed raising my kids and watching them grow into wonderful adults,” she said. “Every year while they were growing up, I took them to India to visit my parents and siblings who still live there.”
In 2017, while her children were starting their own careers in medicine, Kothari went for a routine breast exam and it altered the course of her life.
“The radiologist saw something in my scan, so a biopsy was done,” explained Kothari. “It turned out that I had cancer in three spots in my left breast, so I underwent a mastectomy. Luckily, the cancer had not spread any further.”
After her diagnosis, Kothari said she felt lost without much family living in the United States. She found refuge in neighborhood friends and cancer survivors who introduced her to LivingWell.
“I really missed my home, mom and dad, at that time,” said Kothari. “When I came to LivingWell, it felt like home. It was so peaceful.”
A few months after coming to LivingWell, Kothari was taking yoga, journaling and art classes and started incorporating these healing practices at home. She surprised herself at just how skillful she was at painting and drawing. When the pandemic started and LivingWell went into temporary closure, Kothari continued classes online, and built her own personal art and yoga studio in her basement. During this time at home, her collection of artwork and journals mushroomed. Kothari’s basement is now a full art gallery, containing all of the pieces she created while healing and honing her craft at LivingWell. To expand her gallery, she will need to add a wing!
Kothari has gone on to teach art at The Joshua Tree Community, a nonprofit day program in Geneva, Illinois, for mildly intellectually disabled adults. LivingWell art instructor Cheri Hunt previously taught at The Joshua Tree Community and recommended Kothari for the volunteer position.
“It is jaw dropping to see how far Nandita has come since I first met her in 2018,” said Hunt. “When she walked into my class at LivingWell, she was timid and unsure of her skill set. She has flourished—and is now teaching art. I am so proud of her and how she is giving back to others with her gifts. She is remarkable.”
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