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Dreams Come True

San Antonio teen begins artful journey following cancer diagnosis

San Antonio teen begins artful journey following cancer diagnosis

Jaylah Martinez is 16 years old and battling cancer, but a positive attitude and a talent for art are helping her through her fight. And thanks to Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas, Martinez has showcased her artistic skills in a big way.

Becoming a famous artist was probably the furthest thing from Martinez’s mind this past summer. After suffering from discomfort, the Cibolo teen and her family consulted with a gastroenterologist.

Initially, the family thought she was developing Celiac disease, something her father suffers from, but a CT scan revealed lesions on several of Martinez’s internal organs. The lesions were the result of stage IV renal medullary carcinoma, or advanced kidney cancer.

Martinez, a junior at Steele High School, recalled feeling initially deflated by the diagnosis. “Having cancer isn’t a walk in the park, but everything happens for a reason,” she explains. “It’s all gone by at a pace. Things are getting taken care of. I’ve put my faith in God.”

The artist finds her inspiration
Art has been one of Martinez’s outlets for release during this difficult time.

She took up painting not long ago, and her interest in art prompted the budding artist to enter the MOSAIC Student Artist Program at Blue Star Contemporary. Through her program participation, Martinez has been showcasing her art in public spaces across the San Antonio area.

Martinez typically takes photos of her family or other things to help inform and inspire her visual art. “I like to focus on the hands,” she explained. “They show emotion. We tend to talk with our hands a lot.”

She also said art is a great way to “draw out” her energy. “It’s a good way to express what you’re feeling,” she added. Martinez has also spent much time volunteering with the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, and maintains membership in the National Honor Society.

Dream come true
Make-a-Wish Foundation took notice of Martinez’s artwork — and her wish to display her art to a wider audience. The local chapter collaborated with North Park Subaru, a regular business partner, to organize a December art show at North Park Subaru at Dominion.

“I can say from meeting her that she is an incredibly strong young girl with a positive attitude,” said Jill Skinner, chief communications officer for Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas.“I’m so impressed with how bravely she is facing the challenges of fighting cancer and her positive attitude towards her treatments. She is so inspiring. Her artwork is stunning and when you look at her self portraits you can see that strength emanating off the canvas.”

Themed “Sharing the Love,” the art show featured several of Martinez’s paintings in bold and bright hues which she created with acrylic and oil. One of her personal favorite pieces is a painting, titled Father's Light, that she made of her father’s hands holding a candle.

It was during her San Antonio show that Martinez got the surprise news — she was getting a solo show in Los Angeles. “My main wish was to go to L.A. and show some pieces in a gallery there,” she said. 

And so, at the end of December, Martinez and her family headed to California so could be part of a December 27 exhibit at Shoebox Projects, an experimental art space. “It felt really exciting to get to do something this large,” she said.

Looking towards the future
“Make-A-Wish is so happy to be able to do something special for Jaylah,” Skinner added.“We now have research that shows kids who have wishes granted build the physical and emotional strength to fight their illness, and can help improve their quality of life and produce better health outcomes. Wishes have a life-changing impact on all those involved.”

Since her diagnosis, Martinez has been going to MD Anderson Cancer Center for treatment and says she's been responding well. Later this year, the teenager will have a kidney removed as part of her treatment plan.

Martinez is thinking about her future, a future that includes her majoring in biochemistry and minoring in art in college. Through biochemistry, Martinez hopes she can contribute towards finding a cure for cancer.

As for the art? “Art is always going to be part of me,” she said.