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Living day by day, artist finds miracles

Diane Rath works painting 2008. In December she learned she has Stage 4 colcancer. | Joe shuman~News Sun

Diane Rath works on a painting in 2008. In December, she learned she has Stage 4 colon cancer. | Joe shuman~News Sun

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Updated: March 22, 2011 10:16AM

All eyes are on Diane Rath as she demonstrates how to create shadows on a student’s painting.

It’s obvious that Rath is where she belongs, surrounded by easels, palettes holding a rainbow of oil paints and brushes standing upright in a coffee can.

In her left hand she holds a brush and demonstrates to her class at the Chicago Botanic Garden how strong, confident strokes turn what initially looks like a pink blob into a vibrant peony — every petal seeming to be bursting into bloom. It isn’t enough for her to be a professional artist known nationally; sharing her love for painting is just as vital to her being.

She is so at peace sitting there creating, it’s hard to believe this vibrant woman is in the middle of an ominous personal crisis.

On Dec. 30, Rath’s life was turned upside down when a doctor — one who must have missed the bedside manners class — telephoned about tests she had taken to figure out why she felt so crummy. He bluntly told her a persistent stomachache actually was colon cancer, rattled off the types of specialists she’d need and hung up.

Her three children, all in their 20s, immediately got on the Internet, decided she should be at Northwestern and with that, Rath’s health challenge began.

Doctors there determined she has Stage 4 cancer, which has spread to other organs. When Rath asked one doctor, “Am I going to live,” the answer was, “You will live day by day.”

That pronouncement made Rath realize really that that’s what all of us should be doing, living in the present. And that’s what’s she has embraced since then.

Her body may be betraying her, but this life-threatening experience also has presented Rath with “miracles every day.”

Being self-employed, Rath had to make a choice: put her money into her children’s college educations or divert some to health insurance. Like many struggling moms, she put the education of Tyler, Lucy and Annie first. She paid the last college bill in December.

As a child growing up in small-town Iowa, Rath didn’t fit in; when she’d come home after a bad day at school, her mom would say, “Draw me a picture of it.”

Art was her salvation then, and it is again today. Rath, of Lake Bluff, admits to being in constant, excruciating pain, but when she teaches, it vanishes. She’s convinced that’s when God steps in and takes over.

The medical bills are mounting, so fellow artists put together a showing and sale last month.

Rath was astounded that more than 500 people showed up.

In 90 minutes, all but four of the 56 pieces of her work there that day had been sold.

Letters, phone calls and e-mails are pouring in. As one of her friends told me, card after card from former students praises how Rath not only taught them, but inspired and changed their lives with her positive spirit. She’s that kind of person.

As a child, Rath might not have been very popular, but her life has been rich with friends, who “will do anything in the world for me.”

A group of them has put together a fund-raiser beginning at 5 p.m. Feb. 26 at Nil Tap, 5734 N. Elston. Again, Rath’s art will be on display and for sale and auction.

Rath knows she is in the fight of her life. Yet she remains positive, relying on her strong faith in God:

“I do know he will take care of me.”

For more on Diane Rath’s work, go to

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