Art imitating life: Cancer center fetes sculptor whose work is now permanently featured


BENNINGTON - The Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center honored and celebrated local educator, sculptor, and volunteer Jan Martin Bopp on Wednesday.

Bopp was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in which collections of abnormal plasma cells accumulate in bone marrow, where they interfere with the production of normal blood cells. Throughout his battle with cancer, he was also challenged with cardiovascular dysfunctions, a stem-cell transplant, chemotherapy, coronary artery stent implants, a carotid endarterectomy, a pacemaker implant, and what one speaker called the worst case of shingles he had ever seen.

Yet Bopp persevered through everything, and eventually decided to create a sculpture to symbolize his battle with myeloma. The result was "My Medical Journey: Trauma to Transcendence," a 17-inch wide, 16-inch tall, and 10-inch deep ceramic sculpture, which is on permanent display in the atrium of the cancer center.

The sculpture, which was completed in 2009, "embodies the story of my journey through extensive medical trauma and treatment to better health and a life coping with chronic illness," said Bopp in a written description that was displayed next to the sculpture. "It is a story of some of my physiological ambushes and health challenges and how I have responded, with much professional help, medicine and procedures, fortitude, and good fortune."

Bopp was born and raised near Lansing, Mich., completed his undergraduate studies at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and worked toward a graduate degree at Miami University of Ohio. In the 1970s he began teaching at Mount Greylock High School in Williamstown, Mass.

"My sculpture is a therapeutic expression of my resilience, positive energy and spirit, and eternal optimism. It has been given to the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center to symbolize my deep gratitude for the profound help of expert health care providers and to inspire others afflicted with cancer," said Bopp.

While 92 people officially RSVP'd to Wednesday's reception, the total number of attendees may very well have been higher. "Certainly tonight's turnout is a reflection of the impact Jan has made on all of us, on our lives," said Thomas Dee, CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

Bopp was the first speaker, and opened his remarks by noting that, "This is the first time all my medical office girlfriends are in the same room!" which drew a hearty laugh from the audience. A visibly emotional Bopp thanked everyone who had helped him in his journey, and said that he had hoped that by going first he would have been able to hold himself together.

Ray Bub, a ceramic artist who taught Bopp how to sculpt, spoke of all the charitable organizations and causes Bopp had founded or helped over the years. "I'm trying to show you how he would help people who weren't necessarily the top athlete. Actually, he'd probably help them too," said Bub.

"Jan, as you're learning quickly or have known for years, is a man of many unique gifts," said Bernard Bandman, a psychologist at the cancer center, "We are here today to celebrate Jan's artistic gifts, but we're also here to bring attention to myeloma, a disease that often goes unnoticed. And here we see Jan the educator."

Bopp has founded a myeloma support group, and raised awareness by passing out business cards and posting fliers in the cancer center. Because of his efforts, many who are going through the same things he has gone through, and continues to go through, were able to find support in each other.

Bopp ended his speech, "Thank you, enjoy, go forth, and love."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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