Water Runs Through Cancer Survivor’s Life And Art

By Andy Soth | December 24, 2015


The white walls of a gallery have always filled artist Caroline Greenwald with a sense of possibility.  Over her long career she filled galleries around the world with sculptural forms evocative of waves, wind and water.


She also created delicate scrolls inspired by time in Japan.  Unrolling one reveals crushing blue waves that serve as background for poetry written in contrasting gold paint.  One line holds particular meaning in Caroline’s life:


When shattered and in pain, I return to the sand, the wonder of the waves, the sound and feel of the wind.


That was the case when she received the shattering news that she had breast cancer. Greenwald made a pilgrimage to the Lake Superior shore for some time to think before beginning treatment.


“I just watched those waves,” Greenwald says as she looks at a panoramic photo she took from her seat on the beach. The photo includes her booted feet resting on the sand.  It gives the viewer a real sense of the place and time.


Seated there, Greenwald came to peaceful acceptance of her diagnosis. “These waves, all this sand, my God,” she remembers thinking. “Whatever happens, it’s OK. I mean, it’s a big world out there.”


Peaceful acceptance did not mean giving up, and Greenwald survived.  But don’t call her a survivor. “We use the term survivor. But there’s more. I have conquered cancer,” she declares.


And today Greenwald celebrates that victory though a new pursuit where once again water plays an important role. She is a member of “We Can Row” a rowing program for women cancer patients and survivors conquerors that helps build strength and confidence.


Like many of the women in the program, Greenwald grew up in a time when there were not many team sports for women. But rowing coach Theresa Hong sees her as an invaluable team member.


“She kind of defines our program,” Says Hong. “I mean she has this spirit that she brings to the team.”


“We are all there because we have cancer and cancer is a frightening thing,” Greenwald says. “We’ve gone to funerals.  Some people haven’t made it.”


But it’s not what’s foremost on everyone’s mind as they all, literally, pull together. “We really find that we don’t even talk about cancer that much, but we still have that bond,” says teammate Mary Jeanne Hecht.


To hear Greenwald tell it, it’s more about bringing that conqueror attitude to life. “Watch out world, here we come,” she says with a warm laugh.

Andy Soth

Andy Soth

Andy Soth is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who grew up in a neighboring state but now loves Wisconsin because it’s like Minnesota without the smugness. 

Related Links for this Article

We Can Row Program Information

Caroline Greenwald Website

2018-01-19T17:52:32-06:00Tags: |

Sign Up Form

Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Get your favorite Wisconsin Life stories, meet the crew, and go behind the scenes.

Our Favorite Collections

Storyteller Rodney Lambright II's comic series about the rich relationship between a single father, his young daughter and his retirement-age parents.
For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we discover how Wisconsinites experienced the war both at home and on the battlefield.
Ice, cold and winter are an integral part of what it means to live in Wisconsin. "Ice Week" explores the many ways that ice defines us.
Food plays a central part in many holiday traditions. This series honors the foods and meals that make the day.
Escape winter with a look at some of Wisconsin's favorite sports and games.
"Living the Wisconsin Life" is an online series exploring the little things that make living in Wisconsin fun, interesting and meaningful.