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Pepperdine University
Gretchen Batcheller in front of her painting

Joyful in Hope, Patient in Affliction

"As a child going through leukemia, I experienced joy. As a spouse, mother, and professor experiencing cancer, I experience joy."

As the daughter of a career navy fighter pilot, home was wherever my parents set up house. When we were stateside, my family spent summers with my grandparents, who, along with most of our extended family, lived in the Seattle area, so the Emerald City was home-ish. I grew up adoring my now-98-year-old grandmother, Nonnie. While my geography regularly changed, a constant was Nonnie’s painting studio.

My grandparents lived on the water and ran a commercial fishing business. These summers are magical in memory—working alongside my family by day, swimming and playing on the water in the evenings. In Nonnie’s studio, I learned about the importance of the principles and elements of design by using charcoal on paper before I was allowed to advance to paint. At the age of 5, I (finally) painted my first watercolor landscape of Mount Rainier.

Nonnie modeled what it meant to live out faith in community through creativity. Within the walls of her studio, I learned how the visual arts tap into the core of humanity. Made in the image of God, humans, in our diversity, have a mandate to create and uniquely express ourselves. As a painter, my work is greatly influenced by the location and space in which I exist—whether long term or temporary.

By the age of 13, a new tour of duty brought our family back to Washington State. It was during this time that I was diagnosed with leukemia. I was a healthy teen, and my family was blindsided by my diagnosis and horrible prognosis. Yet, after three and a half years of chemotherapy, steroids, blood transfusions, pokes and prods, spinal tap injections, bone marrow aspirations, intramuscular shots, extreme and never-ending nausea, multiple trips to the emergency room, countless prolonged hospital stays, pills and more pills, multiple hair losses, teenage angst and self-loathing, and a bout or two of shingles, I was cancer-free.

My experience with cancer also set me down the path toward art and painting. I lacked energy to do much of anything else, but I could certainly pick up a paintbrush. In spite of it all, and with an infinite amount of prayer, God blessed our family with joy during this time—utter joy in the midst of terrible pain and suffering. Life lessons from this time continue to impact me today.

Today . . . well, yes, today. Once again, I have been diagnosed with cancer, and similar to the last time around, I have been completely caught off guard. This wasn’t supposed to happen—I’ve already been there, done that. The fight is also different this time around: I am no longer a dependent. Rather I have a family that depends on me. Each day we strive to be in what we call “positive fight mode,” which is an act of being that I learned from another family in the pediatric cancer community. Essentially it means that whatever we do, we do it to the best of our ability, with the best attitude possible and with the most energy we can muster. Above all, we bathe everything in prayer.

This difficult season has miraculously blessed me with time: once again, cancer has drawn me back into painting. My work has always been a personal and faith-filled reflection of the individual—me—born out of a deeply held desire to reflect and actively interpret situation and place. Now more than ever, it has become that . . . a place to pray, process, wrestle, think, and, in some ways, experience the healing nature of creating in a studio.

As a child going through leukemia, I experienced joy. As a spouse, mother, and professor experiencing cancer, I experience joy. Yes, there is suffering, but God’s joyful faithfulness is true, and I am so very grateful to be able to process through this time holding my brush to the canvas and discovering what is in store.