What began as new method of expressing her art soon turned into prophecy. Proffer developed a mass on her leg and underwent several MRIs and scans to determine the exact nature of the mass. The resulting images on the scans were familiar.
“I had been drawing these biomorphic shapes for months before I knew I had cancer, and the scans looked exactly like what I had been drawing,” says Proffer.
After a series of treatments and operations, the hope was that Proffer was cancer-free. Indeed, several years’ worth of annual scans confirmed the remission. For her 2019 follow-up, a new doctor on her treatment team told her that she could skip that year’s scan, as he determined her to be out-of-the-woods due to her age and vitality.
But in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Proffer says she thought she was putting on weight from inactivity. Then her foot went numb, and her abdomen became more distended. She and her husband made a trip to the Lakewood Family Health Center emergency room. After a few scans, the staff immediately transferred her to Fairview Hospital where more testing was done. Finally, one doctor came in to break the news, albeit more brusquely than anticipated.
“He said, ‘You are riddled with cancer. We have never seen a woman more full of cancer than you,’ ” says Proffer.
The prognosis was grim: Proffer’s life expectancy was measured in months, not years, a much shorter amount of time, she believes, than if she had been scanned in 2019.
“The pain was so bad that I thought I would never get to paint again, and I had instant regret that I wouldn’t get to create paintings I had meant to make,” says Proffer.
So she immediately went to action, cataloguing every piece of art she created since high school, reserving a few pieces for her husband and family, but putting the rest up for sale. Her work quickly got snatched up, with more than 40 paintings sold to help support her healthcare and travel plans.
“Watching pieces get sold was a little bit ghoulish but also a little bit flattering,” says Proffer. “Even my childhood bully bought a few pieces.”
In October, she wrapped up a show at Revolution Gallery in Buffalo, which displayed more than 55 drawings she had sketched while watching marathons of The Real Housewives in between chemotherapy and radiation. What originally began as pencil sketches to exercise her hands turned into a whole series of portraits drawn in loose colorful lines evoking fashion illustrations of women with candy-colored hair.
“Yes, I can feel death over my shoulder, but there are still so many things I still want to do,” says Proffer.
Nineteen pieces of Proffer’s work are currently preserved at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, a Cleveland facility and regional museum, and she plans to donate more from the Buffalo show.
“Her work not only reflects the mixed influences of a generation but the vast unexpected artistic talent our region has accumulated,” says Megan Alves, AAWR’s marketing and program manager. “Though herself a transplant to the city, Proffer’s paintings put a finger on the pulse of our Rust Belt reality, blending the outmoded opulence of a bygone era with the tenacious grit of rock ‘n’ roll.”