Frances Wholey: An Artist’s Story of Her Own Journey

Frances Wholey with her son, Matthew and one of her pieces of art.

At 51 years old, you’d think you would know your gifts and talents. But, in my case no. Life was about to reveal my true hidden gifts and talents.

Starting over, and beginning again was not my choice, rather it was chosen for me. My livelihood was earned selling high end real estate in NYC. As an only parent to a young son, it paid well enough to put my son through expensive private school in Manhattan. My selling skills were fine tuned everyday. I had to sink or swim in the shark tank of commission only real estate. I had 17 successful years with the same company.

When my son was ready to go to college, we had, by then, moved to a small suburb just outside of Manhattan. The day finally came where my son was off to college, playing Division 1 basketball. I had saved for years to pay for his tuition. My goal was for him to have no college debt upon graduation.
A new chapter of life was on the horizon. Now would be my time to work, travel, and do my own “thing.” Then I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. My son wanted to drop out of college and come home to help me, of which I said, l didn’t work all these years for you not to become college educated, no way. He returned to college, and I entered what became a very arduous journey.

At the beginning of this journey, a young doctor/scientist at Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital approached me, and asked me if I would like to participate in a trial drug program to help find a cure for breast cancer. In other words, I would be their first patient trying these new drugs, their guinea pig so to speak. I would be donating my body to science. I was chosen because I had no pre-existing conditions, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and was athletic…an ideal candidate for their program. The risks were very real. I prayed about it with my son, and decided, not heroically, but rather because there were no other options, to begin the trial drug infusion program. Over the last 8½ years I have overcome a staggering number of hurdles. The sheer volume of drug infusions is unfathomable. Below are the chronological numbers:

  1. 2012-2013: 7½ months of weekly rounds of chemotherapy (27 rounds).
  2. 2012 – Today: Over 187 rounds of trial drug infusion every 3 weeks. This will continue for the rest of my life, or until a cure is found.
  3. 2017: Major brain surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor, tumor donated to science to further studies on the disease.
  4. 2017: 3 rounds of brain radiation to destroy cancerous brain cells.
  5. 2012 – Today: Lost count of the many, many PET scans, MRI’s, heart scans, etc, etc.
  6. After several years of successfully participating in the trial drug program, providing critical data, with positive results, I, along with a large team of super dedicated doctors, nurses, scientists, pharmacists, and technicians, were able to get the drugs FDA approved for the general public. Major victory for cancer research, currently saving thousands of lives.

Needless to say, I have walked through fire. But that fire, made me into someone unrecognizable to my own self. In 2014 I rented an empty top floor apartment, in an 1895 Harlem townhouse. I had sold everything I owned and literally started over, in my mind, in my body, and in my spirit. I did not own a thing, nothing. I had my little French Bulldog, and some workout clothes. Everything had been given away or donated. I yearned for a new beginning. Gone were the days where I wanted to work, work, work. In a city that demands a hustle and a drive to survive, I was simply contemplative.

I sat in my bare apartment thinking well, I need some art for these empty walls. I took my little niece to a new Michael’s art store in Harlem and said, “Let’s paint something for my new apartment.” My niece picked up a small canvas, an 8×11, but I said no, get a bigger canvas. We are big people…I don’t do small.

We bought a 5’x4’ canvas, with unknowingly, the paint brushes to paint the outside of a house, and cheap kiddy paint. My niece fell asleep after we got back to my apartment, and I figured, “Let me paint a happy place in my mind.” So I thought I would paint the Colorado Rockies. 8 hours of nonstop painting later, I had created my first piece. I was in a zone that I had never been in before. I stood back and looked at the finished painting, and could not believe that I, someone who had never painted a thing in her life, had actually painted something so beautiful! What was going on here? I had a talent I never knew I had!

The years of taking this trial drug infusion program, had forced me to be disciplined in my mind. I would zone out all the negative, and force my mind to reside in my happy places. I pretended, while getting treatment, I was in my happy place, therefore, trying to mitigate the pain. I would see each detail of the setting so vividly, every blade of grass, every color, every smell. I was there. So now that I can transport myself to my happy places, that is the only thing I will paint. I paint only happy places and joy. Walking through the fire all these years, birthed a talent I did not know I had. Good had come out of the fire.

Now, after almost nine years, I have not stopped painting. I’ve painted almost everyday since then. I lose track of time when I’m painting, I’m in my zone. Through the fire, I found my true gifts and talents. I see everything through color; thoughts, emotions, experiences. My work has been sold to collectors, hangs in office buildings, bought by young people who are inspired by my message, art galleries, and I give them as special gifts. Was I born with this talent? I’m not sure, but what I do know is I had to wait and walk through the valleys of life first, to experience this gift.
Take hope, and comfort knowing good can come out your darkest moments. It has for me, and it can for you.

Much love and peace. ~ Francie Wholey

To view or purchase Francie’s artwork, please visit:
*A 10% donation is made to the buyer’s charity of choice for each painting sold.