jake pfeifer hot glass alley

Seasons of Life: Artist Jake Pfeifer’s Sarcoma Journey

“It is difficult to select the right words to describe cancer and the associated treatment. For some it is a battle, a war. And, for others it is a journey. For me, although I was very young, it was both. I visualize this tree as representing how I felt during those many months. The Seasons of the year actually coincided with my own personal experience during cancer treatment.

Summer Season

I happened to be diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma on May 3, 1993; age five. At the time, I would not be able to use the descriptive words I am using now; but memories, and photos of that time help me now describe the journey. The seasons were changing and Summer was upon us. I continued to feel well through most of the Summer although I had started aggressive treatments and losing weight. The glass flowers on the Seasons of Life tree remind me of those Summer days.

Fall Season

By the time Fall rolled around, I had lost all of my hair, I went from 58 pounds to 33; my mouth was swollen, constant headaches, nausea and vomiting, afraid, and too young to understand. I wanted to be out playing in the Fall crisp air. The yellow, red and orange leaves on this tree, while beautiful, take me back to when I started to weaken, and needed to be in a wheelchair. The Sisters from our Catholic Church would come to the hospital every day to be with me. The doctors told me I was on the “good guy cell team.” They told me how brave I was. My mood and attitude toward everything was changing; I was weak, had anxiety, and was afraid; I cried a lot. I needed my Mom and/or Dad with me all of the time.

Winter Season

Winter brought a period of being in the ICU at least three times, multiple blood transfusions, experimental drugs. I was not alert, too weak to do anything. I began asking Mom if I would live. It seemed I was always waiting for the doctor to tell my parents the results of the tests, what are we going to do next, what is the right medicine to treat all of the side effects to the cancer treatment. The testing and waiting and testing again; literally moved me from one day to the next, one month to the next, one Season to the next. My skin was so pale and so transparent looking, and I felt cold all of the time; that these white flowers in Seasons of Life remind me of how fragile my life was at that time. I felt I was withering away. Friends of mine who were in the hospital with me died during that Winter from their own cancer illnesses. We lived in Illinois at the time; and I remember looking out the hospital windows at the falling and deep snow and feeling I would never play outside again; I would never see the sun again.

Spring Season

It was a long scary Winter; but as we pushed through to Spring; I was coming upon the end of my radiation and chemotherapy. I began to gain a little weight and my hair was starting to grow back. All of the Central IV lines were removed. I still was not called cured and wouldn’t be for many years. I had MRIs, CAT Scans, Lab Work, X-Rays, etc. quarterly for years to come, but I felt alive again. I was given a second chance. A re-birth. I was able to run and play and eat and go to school. I was growing into a strong boy. Alive and happy. Spring and Summer are my favorite Seasons; they bring me joy, warmth, strength, and hope.

There are still long-term side effects that take me through the Seasons at times; I have survivor’s guilt; I have anxiety about the cancer returning; I want to live my best life since I have a second chance.”

—Jake Pfeifer, Hot Glass Alley, LLC

 

Glassblowing: How it Mirrors Jake’s Sarcoma Story

“There are two analogies related to glass blowing and my sarcoma experience. The first is related to the Greek mythical bird, the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a fire spirit, a beautiful bird, that at the end of its life- cycle burns fiercely; but, from the fire and ashes, it is reborn, and rises again. I feel I have emerged from the fire, and I am living the life I love; and as chance would have it, I now find myself working with fire. From the fire, emerges beautiful things — first, my life, and second, the art that I am able to create.

A second analogy is the cancer treatment process itself. From the beginning it is an all-or- nothing journey. When starting the treatment, most choose to see it through to the end, whatever that may be. There is no taking a break and starting again later. Blowing glass is similar to that. Once I take that first gather of molten glass from the furnace, I am committed. There is no putting the piece away to finish it tomorrow. I must work the piece through to the end, even if the outcome is not what I desired. During that process, the piece undergoes many changes and, at times, due to many reasons, can almost be lost. Like the result of my cancer treatment, fortunately, most of the pieces result in something beautiful.”

—Jake Pfeifer, Hot Glass Alley, LLC

 

 

How PTF Imagined the GHTA Program and Seasons of Life

 

How the Idea for Growing Hope Through Art Program Began

The Paula Takacs Foundation for Sarcoma Research, one of the most successful grassroots sarcoma foundations in the country, desired to reach beyond traditional forms of fundraising to ensure that the impact of our mission continued to grow. Determined to create a more permanent fund raising model beyond fundraising events, and a deep respect for how art brings people and ideas together, we launched GROWING HOPE THROUGH ART. Designed to bring community awareness of sarcomas and to elevate the foundation’s ability to fund clinical trials and research, this program ultimately demonstrates our steadfast commitment to help speed diagnosis timelines, improve outcomes, and discover sarcoma cures.

Seasons of Life Art Concept

Out of the soil comes a tender shoot, an organic metaphor of beauty and survival. Held securely in place by an unseen network of nourishing roots, fed by light and water, trees grow upward towards our boundless universe. They birth infinite leaves and flowers, bend fiercely in the wind, and remain steadfast in their survival instinct for over a hundred years. Trees have always been an analogy for personal growth, overcoming adversity, perseverance, joy, celebration, and life itself. The Paula Takacs Foundation believes that Seasons of Life perfectly represents the strength, resilience, and relentless of the human spirit when faced with a cancer diagnosis.

Why was Levine Cancer Institute Chosen for the Seasons of Life Installation?

The relationship between Atrium Health’s Levine Cancer Institute (LCI) and the Paula Takacs Foundation (PTF) began in 2012 when LCI first opened its doors. Over the many years since then, this partnership has grown dramatically in size and scope, driven largely by the foundation’s philanthropic commitment to their sarcoma research program and the dramatic increase in the number of sarcoma patients that LCI served.

With annual research grants from LCI to PTF averaging $250,000, numerous cutting-edge clinical trials and genomics projects have been undertaken. Three of these have been awarded prestigious presentations at global cancer conferences. These studies have directly impacted patient care and advanced the world’s understanding of sarcoma cancers. In 2023, PTF announced yet another milestone in empowering top-notch talent to drive research in this space by establishing a $2 million Paula Takacs Foundation Endowed Chair of Sarcoma Research at Levine Cancer Institute.

In addition to PTF’s longstanding dedication to LCI’s sarcoma research program, our decision to place Seasons of Life at LCI honors the Institute’s passion about art in the patient experience. Many beautiful pieces of art adorn the walls and hallways of LCI to uplift patients and their families. The Institute also has a very active art therapy program as well as numerous patient exhibitions annually, part of the nationally recognized care model within their Department of Supportive Oncology.

The aesthetics of LCI Building 1 and 2, from the colors, natural light, furniture, use of space, etc. clearly demonstrate their relentlessness in making sure the patient, visitor, and staff experience within their walls are as healthy and positive as humanly possible. In fact, Levine Cancer Institute is the only cancer center in United States and one of two worldwide to be awarded the prestigious Gold Certification for Excellence in Person-Centered Care by Planetree International, recognizing LCI as a top designation for patient-centered cancer care delivery.