November 27, 2019

Contributed
Maxine Trainer is seated among her artwork before she recently began a course of chemotherapy to fight breast cancer.

Contributed Maxine Trainer is seated among her artwork before she recently began a course of chemotherapy to fight breast cancer.

ISLAMORADA — This is a bad week for fine artist Maxine Trainer. She probably won’t paint much after undergoing another round of chemotherapy to treat her breast cancer.

“I like to lay in bed, read and sleep. I act just like a wounded dog. I just want to be left alone. But five or six day after the treatment, I drag myself up again,” she said. “I have this canvas that I’m working on. It’s a minimalistic piece with eight sticks on it and I cross them off as I go through my treatments. I can get through this.”

KRISSY BALLANGER/KBB Photography
Maxine Trainer poses with some of her recent works after starting chemotherapy.

A lot has changed for Trainer in the last year since her diagnosis.

“I’m thankful for the weeks when I’m feeling OK. I have sh—y days and I have awesome days. I have a lot of amazing people around me,” she said.

On Trainer’s good weeks, she volunteers at the Islamorada-Helen Wadley Branch Library, where she teaches art to local children. She is also preparing for an exhibition of her latest work at the library.

“It’s as if I fell off of a boat,” she said of her cancer diagnosis. “I can sink or I can swim. I choose to swim, and I will sing and paint along while I’m doing it.”

Trainer now dons colorful head scarves and candidly discusses her fight against cancer.

“People don’t know how to react to cancer, so I kept it secret for a while. Breast cancer isn’t a taboo. We need to have dialogue about this. I want to tackle this,” she said.

Trainer had an idea something was wrong but put off getting a mammogram for a few months. She was lucky to have been tested when she was, she said.

“Every woman just needs to go and get it done straightaway,” she said. “Fear is a powerful thing. It takes hold of you. Even if the outcome is bad, there is so much they can do to treat breast cancer now. It’s not a walk in the park, but look at me, I’m getting through it.”

The hardest thing for Trainer following her mastectomy was to accept help from others.

“When I woke up, I thought that it wasn’t that bad. It was harder for the people surrounding me. I finally told them, ‘I don’t want to worry about you worrying about me.’ Bring me some water and I’ll be fine,” she said. “I’m grateful for all my friends and the community supporting me. I’m used to being independent, so this is a whole new thing for me. When you get breast cancer, you still have to carry on and pay bills. I’m lucky to have great friends and be in such a wonderful community. The Keys have literally just enveloped me in love.”

Islamorada library assistant Charlotte Caria finds inspiration in Trainer’s example.

“I’m inspired by Maxine because she is choosing to live her life vibrantly with cancer rather than surrendering and not moving forward, never leaving her house, which would be easy and understandable if she did that,” Caria said. “She instead chooses to make her cancer a part of her art and jokes and stories, and takes the shame out of illness. People talk to her and think, ‘If she can do this, so can I.’”

Contributed
Artist Maxine Trainer will present her ‘Rescue Is the New Purebreed’ exhibit at the Islamorada-Helen Wadley Branch Library at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Krissy Ballanger, a friend of Trainer’s, agrees.

“Her generosity, of spirit and otherwise, is exceptionally inspiring and her positivity is contagious. I haven’t met anyone quite like her,” she said.

Library patrons and her young art students also love Trainer, Caria said.

Trainer started teaching art to children about 14 years ago in a run-down Brevard County neighborhood when she first moved to the United States from England.

“Teaching those kids in the neighborhood wound up being the best thing ever. I never taught kids in my life and never thought I ever wanted to. I was a selfish artist,” Trainer said. “It started out once a week with seven kids. I had one chair, one pencil and I’d give them one hour. We made it work, though, and we were completely surrounded by mayhem.

“I always tell people to find their creativity. Everyone is creative and it’s much cheaper than therapy.”

Trainer uses her talent in mixed media to raise awareness of issues she’s passionate about. Her recent large-format paintings are a series titled “Rescue Is the New Purebreed,” which depict actual adopted dogs.

So far, there are 32 large pieces in the collection. Each tells the story of a dog coming through a rescue and being adopted. The depictions are fun and contemporary.

“I become one with the dog, or I become the dog and tell the story,” Trainer said. “I realized that this isn’t just about the dogs and their plight to survive, but it’s also a celebration of great people and the hard work that they do by rescuing these animals.”

Trainer plans to compile the pieces to share in a book.

Her two rescued dogs, a pit bull named Twitch and a Chihuahua named Cujo (aka Velcro), live with six rescued cats.

The opening reception for “Rescue Is the New Purebreed” is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, at the library located at 81830 Overseas Highway in Islamorada. A portion of the proceeds from this event and sales of Trainer’s art, which is also on display at Larabelle Boutique in Islamorada and Coco Plum Place in Key Largo, will be given to MarrVelous Pet Rescue and the Voiceless Dogs of Nassau.

A gofundme account has been set up to help Trainer with her fight against breast cancer. For more information, visit gofundme.com/f/max-trainer-breast-cancer-fund.

tjava@keysnews.com