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Cancer changed Brill artist Mark Fennell’s life ‘for the better’

Mark Fennell during his third round of chemotherapy Image copyright Mark Fennell
Image caption Mark Fennell during his third round of chemotherapy

An artist said painting self-portraits during his treatment for cancer helped him get through the illness.

Mark Fennell, 57, from Brill, Buckinghamshire, gave up his job “which I hated” after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in December 2016.

“In many ways the diagnosis has changed my life for the better,” he said.

His family moved to a smaller home and he threw himself into painting a weekly portrait of himself as he underwent chemo and radiotherapy.

“I decided I wanted to get something positive from this difficult period in my life,” said the former advertising art director.

Image copyright Mark Fennell
Image caption Self portrait during cycle 5 of treatment in week 13

Although diagnosed in 2016, chemotherapy was not necessary until 2018 when a tumour was detected.

Mr Fennell said the work became “more challenging than I’d anticipated, especially as I became more fatigued as the treatment went on.

“My aim with these self-portraits was to be has honest and direct as possible and simply convey my feelings during the treatment,” he said.

Image copyright Mark Fennell
Image caption Mark Fennell during five stages of his chemotherapy

The artist captured himself through various stages, before, during and after hair loss, in weakness and defiance.

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Mr Fennell said he found painting incredibly therapeutic and it helped him to come to terms with dramatic changes in his appearance, and to accept his new identity.

Some of the portraits were painted from life by looking in a mirror and some from photographs.

Image copyright Mark Fennell
Image caption Mark Fennell had his head shaved when his hair began to fall out after the third week of chemotherapy.

On days when he had very less energy he would do “quick drawings” in charcoal, pencil, pen and ink.

The full-time artist works predominantly in oils and has had portrait commissions from celebrity cook Antony Worrall Thompson, former Lord Mayor of Birmingham John Hood and singer-songwriter John Otway.

Image copyright Mark Fennell
Image caption Mark Fennell (left) post-treatment, at one of his art workshops
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