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From cancer to canvas: Breast cancer survivor extends her art studio to other patients

Posted at 2:40 PM, Oct 18, 2018

October is a month when there’s a lot of pink, which is in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the National Breast Cancer Association, Inc, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Kathleen McKinnon of San Luis Obispo was one of those eight.

It was five months after McKinnon’s mom lost her battle to breast cancer that she, too, would be diagnosed. She says having breast cancer and beating it changed her perspective on many things. Today, she’s giving back to patients who are going through a similar fight by extending her art studio, Harmony Schoolhouse,  to them.

“It’s called The Snuggery,” McKinnon said.  “Which is a cozy, comfortable place for creative expression.”

Art has always been a part of McKinnon’s life, but after her battle with cancer, she knew she wanted to give back.

“I’ve extended my art studio to a place where I’m inviting people to come in and create, to work through any stresses and fears and anxieties as they go through the journey,” McKinnon said.

Close friend and breast cancer survivor Linda Ortiz says she wishes she had something like this during her treatment.

“It’s a mood elevator, it can ground you, it can do all sorts of things,” Ortiz said.

It was in the spring of 2016 that McKinnon found out the news after having a 3-D mammogram. The National Breast Cancer Association recommends women 40 years or older should have routine mammograms every one to two years.

“The radiologist said if I hadn’t had that mammogram, I probably wouldn’t have found that tumor for another three or four years,” McKinnon said.

Inundated with complicated labs and next steps, McKinnon says the Hearst Cancer Resource Center at French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo was a lighted pathway during a dark time.

“They were such an emotional, spiritual help to me as I went through it,” McKinnon said. “It was such a loving environment and people knew and know what you’re going through.”

Multiple classes, including Tai Chi and art classes, also helped McKinnon ease her mind during her treatment. At no point did the resource center make her feel alone in her journey.

“It was so wonderful to bring these pile of papers and sit across from the nurse navigator and she would look through them and explain every piece about it, tell me what was going to come next, what it was going to be like,” McKinnon said.

Since her treatment, McKinnon says she’s become very involved with the resource center. She even handcrafted multi-color angel wings with messages of encouragement and support that were auctioned off for $40,000. The money ultimately went back to the resource center, as well as the wings.

“Now thatI’ve gone through treatment and I’m considered a survivor and that it’s behind me, I am not that person I was before I started and it’s had such a huge change on my life,” she said.

For more information on The Snuggery, or how you can donate to McKinnon’s cause, visit If you or a family member is diagnosed with cancer and would like to find out more information about the resources at the Hearst Cancer Resource Center, click here.