Woman fighting breast cancer earns master's degree
Posted June 19
PORTLAND, OR — Earning a degree is no easy task, especially when you're up against the toughest of circumstances. That's what one student at Portland State has been facing for the last two years as she works to earn her master's degree.
When she's alone in her studio, Kayley Berezney is truly free to create anything she can imagine, to pour out her soul through delicate sculptures crafted piece by piece.
"There's a lot of metaphor that I'm pushing," she said.
They're abstract representations of the human body – exploring physical tension, gravity, and what we all face: mortality.
"That just cracked, but actually, that's part of it. They disintegrate each time I use them," said Berezney.
She has spent hours in her studio – days, really – and is almost at the end of her program, earning a master's degree at Portland State University.
"I just feel like sometimes that magic moment happens when you're just in the studio for 10 hours," she said.
It's a program she started after learning at the age of 26, she's fighting Stage 4 breast cancer.
"I didn't think cancer was going to be the diagnosis," Berezney said.
Especially because at first, it wasn't. Her cancer was misdiagnosed when she was 21 and by the time she learned the truth a few years later, it was already in her bones.
"I just had to be like, OK, this is what's happening, this is the reality of my experience and my life," she said.
It's that kind of moment when you have to make a choice: give up on your life and your dreams or pursue them with every drop of passion you have. And that's what Berezney chose.
"Whether you have a diagnosis or not, no one really knows how long they have," she said.
So, she decided to fight for her work and for her future – and found herself turning the toughest days into creative invention.
Surgical tubing binds her pieces, and even radiation became a source of innovation.
Berezney said, "I don't think that anyone dealing with a disease like this is an average person, and I'm certainly not an average breast cancer patient."
"The material just kind of immediately reminded me of this experience of becoming a specimen and seeing scans of yourself," she said while holding a sculpture.
After two long years, she's trading in her art studio for a cap and gown.
The day she's been dreaming of – everything she's worked so hard for – is finally here.
But in front of the entire auditorium, there was a surprise – recognition of her story and her strength.
"I feel really grateful right now and I feel really excited," Berezney said.
Whatever the future holds, there's no doubt about this. It's not only art that inspires, but sometimes the artist herself.
From here, Berezney will head to the East Coast where her art will be on display in a solo exhibition in Brooklyn, New York next month.
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