Navigating Cancer Through Art

Originally posted: April 10, 2012

Alyse Lucas Corcoran ’62

Alyse Lucas Corcoran '62 works on “Spirit,” which awaits its permanent home at Ground Zero.

Alyse Lucas Corcoran ’62 never planned to be a sculptor. In fact, if it wasn’t for cancer, there is good chance she would have never taken this direction in life. In the weeks prior to her 1992 diagnosis, the English and theatre double major had just accepted a position at the White House as a specialist in urban policy. Still in her thirties and enjoying the exhilaration of an exciting career while mothering three kids, Corcoran felt her cancer diagnosis like a meteor hitting the planet.

“I kept fighting to get well. There were many side effects, then a second cancer and other serious illness. Then I decided that it was time to look at my life from a different perspective,” said Corcoran.  “A friend sat me down and asked me, ‘If you never have any more strength or energy than you do now, what can you do that will make you feel worthwhile and valuable, be productive, and that you sincerely enjoy?’ The answer was thinking, writing, and sculpting.”

Corcoran’s work received instant acclaim and over the last 15 years, her sculptures have been exhibited in numerous shows and galleries across the country. Highlights include having the nine-foot artist proof of her sculpture, “The Spirit of September Eleventh” placed in the permanent collection of the National Arts Club, Gramercy Park, New York City. The full bronze of “Spirit” awaits its permanent home at Ground Zero.

It would seem to some that Corcoran has had the unique opportunity to live two lives—one in the White House and the other as an artist. “The highlight of my career was my White House years where I was responsible for inter-governmental affairs at the city, county, state, and federal levels,” recalled Corcoran, who worked under Carter and Reagan, and would have worked for Clinton and Gore if not for her diagnosis.

“Sometimes I regret leaving my sculpting behind in undergraduate school, for I had a superb teacher,” said Corcoran. “ But recently a stranger, a wise looking woman, revealed to me that it was ordained that I resume sculpting at this time in my life. I do realize now that the life I have led in lieu of sculpting, gives me a great deal to think about, write about, and sculpt about. And that in turn, I believe, is what makes people more interested in what I think, write, and sculpt.”

Cancer is by no means the only medical problem Corcoran grapples with, but she does not view it as a death sentence, but rather a disease to be managed.  When her energy improves she plans to continue with her sculpting and writing.

“When people ask me if I pray to God to make me well, I reply ‘no.’ I pray to God to make me of value,” said Corcoran. “I believe that my sculpting is God’s answer to my prayer, and I am profoundly grateful.”

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