Artistic inspiration provides strength in adversity

When Ohara Kasumi was 16 months old, her mother Ayako noticed something unusual in her eyes. The pupils had taken on a white appearance.

Ayako rushed her daughter to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare and malignant form of cancer that affects the eyes of children.

Kasumi's eyes had a white glow.

A doctor advised that Kasumi would need urgent surgery to remove both of her eyes. Ayako was heart-broken, but accepted there was no choice.

While her daughter was confined to a hospital bed and waiting for surgery, Ayako started painting pictures of the outside world for her.

Ohara Ayako paints for Kasumi.

She put Kasumi in the pictures, and made them as bright as possible, not only to mask her own sadness, but to lift her daughter's spirits.

Ayako made her paintings as bright as possible.

Light in the darkness

In the days before the procedure, Kasumi's sight continued to worsen. Ayako encouraged her to remember the colors of the world before her sight was gone forever.

A painting depicts Kasumi surrounded by paper cranes.

"It was hard for me to accept she was going to lose her sight," says Ayako. "But through drawing, I was able to face it."

A touch of color

The surgery was a success, and Kasumi was able to start post-operative treatment to keep the cancer at bay.

Ayako kept painting for her daughter, using the same bright colors as before. But now she adds clay to add shape and texture so her daughter can run her hands across the bumps and conjure an image in her mind.

Kasumi feels a painting by her mother.

As she felt one of Ayako's compositions, Kasumi asked, "Am I touching a rainbow?"

"Yes, that's it!" said Ayako.

Kasumi touches a painting.

Newfound confidence

Ayako noticed Kasumi was gradually regaining her confidence, and soon she was ready to go outside again.

Kasumi is ready to face the outside world.

In the park in front of the hospital, she engages with her surroundings through touch, sound, and smell.

"Sometimes I wonder if she can ‘see' things we can't see," her mother says.

Kasumi dips her hand in a pond.
Kasumi points out a crab.

At home, she takes after her mother, using crayons to create drawings of her own.

"Because I'm drawing," says Ayako, "I'm watching over Kasumi, thinking that she's probably interested in painting. Kasumi is undergoing painful treatment, but she is bright. Looking at her, I think I should not be depressed. I'm receiving power from her."

Ohara Ayako.

Helping others

Ayako is now using her talents to help others affected by retinoblastoma.

Iguchi Hayato, right, and Kasumi.

She made a painting for Iguchi Hayato, who shared a hospital room with Kasumi, and lost his left eye to the disease.

The image, which shows Hayato hugging his newborn brother, helped to lift the family through a very trying time, says his mother, Mizuki.

Iguchi Mizuki and her son Hayato.

Ayako's paintings have also gone on display at the hospital where Kasumi was treated.

A painting depicts Kasumi with her older sister.
Iijima Kazumoto, director at the hospital in Kobe.

They have provided enormous encouragement to other patients, as well as visitors and staff, says Iijima Kazumoto, director at the hospital.

"They are wonderful paintings, even to us, and I felt a strong love for her daughter," says Iijima. "Illness is not something that can be cured only by medical staff. I think people with various conditions can feel something when they see these paintings."

"I'm glad Kasumi is my daughter," says Ayako. "I believe that no matter what obstacles people face, the world is bright, life is colorful, and people will be happy. Everything is going to be all right. I hope people can gain a little courage seeing me and Kasumi working hard."

Ohara Ayako.