A local artist did not let his cancer diagnosis stop him from doing what he loves while inspiring others.

Reuben Cheatem of Dallas had his life flipped upside down after being diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2022. The Dallas Express spoke with Cheatem to learn more about his love of art and his life after the diagnosis.

Cheatem’s love for art began when he was young. He used to watch his mother paint at the table in their home. Growing up admiring his mother’s talent, Cheatem took his passion for art to school. He told DX that he had always known he wanted to grow up to become an artist.

He kept the spark alive, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Kansas in 2003. From then on, creating art became Cheatem’s full-time career.

In May of 2022, however, Cheatem started having digestive complications, which caused him to think he was suffering from food poisoning. Cheatem told DX that before the diagnosis, he had maintained a healthy lifestyle and had no underlying medical conditions.

The discomfort lasted for nearly a month before Cheatem decided to seek medical attention, where he was misdiagnosed with diverticulitis. Though the medication for diverticulitis did make him feel better, the pain returned a few months later, resulting in an emergency room visit.

During this ER visit, Cheatem was told that the doctor had found a tumor and that he needed surgery. The doctor noted that they would not know whether the mass was cancerous until after removal.

Testing revealed the tumor was cancerous.

“I’ve always been a health-forward person,” Cheatem told DX, adding that he avoids using certain toxic materials while painting to lessen his chance of health issues. “I felt like I was avoiding the fight with cancer, but really, I was more preparing myself for the fight against cancer.”

After the tumor was removed, Cheatem underwent several months of chemotherapy. He maintains his healthy lifestyle allowed him to handle the treatment.

Cheatem took to social media to share his experiences during treatment, “from the good to the bad.”

He told DX, “I was really intentional about sharing videos on my social media of me dancing or being curled up in a ball under my worktable.”

Following the chemo infusions and rounds of medications, Cheatem was able to emerge on the other side of his cancer diagnosis.

“I got a lot of positive feedback from how open I was with the experience,” Cheatem said.

Cheatem decided to couple his cancer journey with his artistic talent. The experience inspired him to create an exhibition called “H.E.A.L.E.D.,” which stands for “Hope. Encouragement. And. Love. Evaded. Darkness.” The collection includes 12 abstract paintings.

“It was rewarding to have people accept my vulnerability,” Cheatem said, adding that he did not want his exhibition to just represent his cancer.

“I wanted it to be about going through something difficult that is mentally and physically draining, exhausting, and difficult,” Cheatem told DX.

“It may be hard to see the other side of it, but you just have to get through it. I’ve been reiterating that you don’t have to be a hero to triumph; you just have to keep fighting,” Cheatem said.

Following his battle with cancer, Cheatem noted the diagnosis made him change his appreciation for relationships.

Cheatem shared how he had been feeling down one day while getting an infusion, telling DX that his “spirits were broken,” but one unexpected phone call from a family member pulled him out of the darkness.

“He flipped the switch for me, and so I began to understand the importance of relationships. People often don’t check on each other because they’re accustomed to assuming that the person is doing okay, but there’s so much power in actually hearing someone’s voice.”

Cheatem shared some advice for anyone who may be dealing with a cancer diagnosis: “Be patient with yourself and feel the feelings. It’s okay to feel some guilt and doubt, but the overall feeling should be hope. Keep pushing and keep working.”

To view Cheatem’s work, visit his website and social media page.