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Artist shares her extraordinary story to launch March Arts

March Arts 2024 begins with the installation of unique works at RPA hospital.

SydneyConnect video: March Arts 2024

Contemporary artist and cancer survivor Mary-Lou Pavlovic has an extraordinary story.

She travelled from Bowral to RPA to share her story and showcase her artwork as part of the launch activities for March Arts 2024, the Districts’ month-long celebration of arts in healthcare.

After living and working in Bali for over a decade, including completing her PhD and building up a career, the pandemic hit, and she was stuck overseas with a mystery illness.

“I was doing an art residency in about March, and suddenly no one could come in or out of Bali, so I was asked to stay on, but I was getting sicker and sicker, and I thought I just had a sore leg,” she said.

Her situation eventually got worse to the point of being bedridden, and after initial treatment in Indonesia, she was told she must be taken to Australia.

“They just said you've got to go home. My family took over because I lost my memory. What I found out when I was back here was that the calcium had leached into my bloodstream,” she said.

Mary-Lou was diagnosed with hypercalcemia, which caused memory loss, deep vein thrombosis and severe anaemia from previous treatments received in Bali.

When she arrived at RPA, she was also told she had stage 4 lymphoma.

Eight weeks in hospital, where her treatment was led by Professor Joy Ho, Senior Staff Specialist in Haematology, changed her life.

“She cured me. I had chemotherapy, and I lived.”

Dr Richard Boyle, an orthopaedic surgeon who also provided treatment, told Mary-Lou her story was extraordinary because she “just came back.”

Her patient experience at RPA has strongly impacted her art practice.

“Having cancers really changed my practice, and so I'm working at the moment with less chemicals,” she said.

“I want to work with this beautiful flower I’ve found, it’s called a Madagascar periwinkle, and they actually make a drug that treats non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

To Mary-Lou, the staff were amazing – especially Professor Ho.

“I would do anything for her, and I'm sure there's many more that feel like that,” she said.

“And the nurses were all wonderful, I was so struck by them, and all the doctors too they want, they would often start their shift early and come and see me or stay behind and come and see me.”

Mary-Lou will be completing an Artist in Residence with the Arterie program at RPA in 2024, working on a new approach with her materials and techniques.

The Arts play a significant role in healthcare – motivating, inspiring and connecting staff, patients, their families, and the community.

The March Arts festival is an opportunity for the District community, including our patients, families, and their carers, to appreciate and celebrate how art, music, and engagement in creative projects have a positive effect on patient experiences, helping our District to deliver better health outcomes.