Julianna Paradisi

Service & Creation

WORDS Merlin Varaday | PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden

Julianna Paradisi knows what it is like to have more than one calling. She juggles working as an Oncology Nurse Navigator at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital with a thriving painting, writing and public speaking career. These passions feed each other, rather than conflicting or dividing her attention. Her written work weaves together tiny personal moments with current events. Julianna’s experiences working with patients – including children – fill her paintings.

After 30 years working in the medical industry, Julianna found herself on the flipside of the conversation, receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. Although frightened, she fought back, and her knowledge and courage helped pave the way in creating the field of Nurse Navigation.

Julianna’s current exhibition of paintings: Artists, Healers, and Breast Cancer Survivors is showing through the end of January, 2018 at the Legacy Good Samaritan campus in the lower level of Building 3 (1130 NW 22nd Ave.). Ten of her paintings hang with those of another artist who also works in health care. During the artists’ reception on November 2nd, 2017, Julianna spoke about the challenges of being an artist working in cancer care and a breast cancer survivor. Her journey is reflected in the piece entitled What’s Left Behind (Sky Burial III). As she puts it: “Cancer didn’t bury me; I buried cancer.”

You are a nurse, an artist and a writer! How do you balance or integrate your healing work, with writing and painting? For me, the answer is complex, and has evolved over time. To begin with, I let go of any pretense of balance a long time ago. Balance implies being stationary, constant, or fixed. I don’t believe in a balanced life. I experience life as dynamic, and constantly changing.  I live life as if it’s a juggling act; the trick is knowing which balls in the air make you happy, and which ones make you frantic.

And I’m not a nurse, artist, and writer in a vacuum; I have a husband, family and friends that I also want to spend time with. Being creative requires a bit of solitude. I’ve learned to dwell within a space bordered between service and self-preservation.

So, I juggle. Being a nurse, artist, and writer at the same time requires me to adapt, and respond to each role as needed; occasionally moment by moment. Some days nursing requires all my energy and time, and art and writing become the two balls thrown into the air while I finesse the third. Other times, nursing only requires I palm it back and forth a while, allowing me to focus on art-making and writing. It’s difficult to explain exactly how it works, but it does.

How do you decide what to paint or what to write about? Sometimes, there’s a point I want to make. When this is so, writing is usually my go-to medium, and in a way, it’s my most challenging medium, because it requires self-revelation. In visual arts, sometimes I make an image simply because it’s interesting to me, not because I have a philosophical statement to make. But there are times I do make a statement with paintings. My series The Color White, and Urban Horses (images of the now defunct Portland Mounted Police Horses) were about societal expectations for women, and work roles, respectively. (Many of the Urban Horses paintings and other works on paper are displayed at Northwest Oncology Clinic, 1130 NW 22nd Ave., Suite 150)

Who in your life inspires you the most? People who act on their compassion. People who live by their integrity and do the right thing, whether doing so is recognized or not. As a nurse, I have opportunity to witness a lot of everyday heroism. It uplifts me, and maintains my sense of hope for the world.

Some of your artwork contains images of Portland. Do you feel a particular connection to this city? My first series of paintings was Greetings from Slabtown, images of old Pearl District buildings. Many of these buildings no longer exist. I love Oregon in general, and Portland in particular. There are the obvious reasons: great food and wine culture, the arts, literary, and music scene. We have our differences, but when disaster strikes, everyone comes together to help each other. One of my favorite examples was the flood of 1996, and watching 1,500 city employees, the homeless, people from the West Hills, and other Portlanders working shoulder to shoulder to save Tom McCall Waterfront Park. There’s a plaque commemorating the event, with these words written by President Clinton: “I hope you will always remember for as long as you live, what the people of Portland did in one remarkable day.” This is the Portland I’m in love with.

What is the process of working with a Nurse Navigator? Basically, an Oncology Nurse Navigator is charged with removing individual patient barriers that prevent access to timely and appropriate treatment. Cancer care often consists of working with multiple specialists, including oncology surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. The diagnosis is frightening, and keeping track of appointments, procedures, tests, and medications can be overwhelming.
Oncology Nurse Navigators provide an extra layer of support to help patients make sense of what is happening to them. We assist with symptom and side effect management. We connect patients with transportation needs to available ride services, assist patients who are having chemotherapy to get wigs, and make refer to social services as needed. Referrals to an oncology nurse navigator usually come from a physician, but patients can self-refer if they feel they will benefit.

In addition to being a healer, you are a cancer survivor. What advice would you give to someone who is facing a frightening diagnosis? First, seek treatment from a hospital with an accredited cancer program, which is the best way of insuring you will receive the right care. Choose doctors who specialize in the type of cancer you have.

Next, build your support network of family and friends. Find out what resources are available to you at work from your Human Resources department.

Ask for a referral to an Oncology Nurse Navigator.

Finally, remain hopeful. New technologies and treatment advances are developed all the time. Improved management of side effects has greatly improved the experience of patients during treatment. Your cancer care team is there to assist you.
What is next for you? As a nurse, I’ve been fortunate to practice social activism as a patient advocate. As I look towards the future, eventually winding down my nursing career to become a full-time artist and writer, I’m contemplating what form my social activism will take next.

Besides continuing to paint, I have a 300-page first draft of a book I’d like to continue working on. I have notes for a second, and for a collection of fictional short stories I’d like to write. I’d love to create a wine label for an Oregon Pinot Noir. Community theater is something I’m interested in. My to-do list is long. The most difficult part of being mortal is accepting the limitations of time.