Giving back to the world with an idea full of color - Albuquerque Journal

Giving back to the world with an idea full of color

They were college students in Missouri when she gave him her heart.

In 1973, she gave him her hand in marriage. A few years later, she gave him one of her kidneys.

That transplant – his second – gave him life. That gave Russell and Sharon Hamilton more years filled with art and literature and love and giving that to others.

The Hamiltons moved to Albuquerque in 1976 when Russell was accepted as a student at the Tamarind Institute for fine art lithography at the University of New Mexico.

He became a renowned master printmaker and a co-founder of the Exhibit 208 gallery; she became a teacher with Albuquerque Public Schools and a mother.

Sharon Hamilton stands before a painting by her late husband, Russell Hamilton, a gift to the Gallery With a Cause of the New Mexico Cancer Foundation. (Courtesy of Sharon Hamilton)

As beautiful and giving as their life was, ugly health issues threatened to take it away. Russell needed a third kidney transplant, but kidney disease still took his life in 2014 at age 64.

Sharon was diagnosed with endometrial cancer around 2009 and underwent chemotherapy. That worked for a while, but the cancer returned. Again and again.

It’s the day after her fourth of five rounds of chemotherapy in her fourth bout with cancer when we talk. She is Stage IVB, the bleakest level. She is tired.

But that isn’t apparent in her voice, which bursts through the phone like sunshine through a sieve.

She has some more things to give.

Sharon Hamilton is undergoing chemotherapy for her fourth bout with endometrial cancer, which she has battled for 11 years. She colors to ease the pain in her fingers and to take her mind off her illness. (Courtesy of Sharon Hamilton)

“I thought this might be interesting to share with you – ways people might use the Albuquerque Journal to heal themselves during cancer treatments,” she wrote in an email. “I wasn’t sure if you might be interested in the story to help others or as a human interest or just to make you smile. I really just wanted to share the idea with someone.”

How could anybody say no to that?

Not surprisingly, the idea involves art, different than that created by her husband but art anybody can do, at any age, any level of talent.

Hamilton has rediscovered the accessible art of coloring, a childhood activity that five years ago saw a resurgence – this time among adults – then faded away until COVID-19 left many folks homebound and in need of isolation activities.

She noticed that the Journal publishes coloring pages – “doodles,” she calls them – in Venue Plus, our entertainment and TV guide published every Friday.

Sharon Hamilton uses colored pencils to color in ornate designs, then stitches them to paper to make greeting cards. The “doodles,” as she calls them, can be found in Venue Plus on Fridays in the Journal. (Courtesy of Sharon Hamilton)

“With COVID and cancer, the Journal has been such a good source for reading, for doing things like the crossword puzzles and Sudoku and the comics,” she said. “And these coloring doodles are just fun, even for kids.”

But coloring is more than fun for her. It’s healing.

One of the side effects of chemotherapy is neuropathy, a disease that damages nerve endings in the extremities, especially the hands and feet, that causes a stinging sensation, numbness and weakness.

Although medication is available to counteract the damage, it’s not available to Hamilton because of how it taxes the kidneys.

“I have only one kidney left,” she said. “I donated it to my husband, and I have no regrets.”

The pain is sometimes so great that it is hard to turn the pages of a book. For a voracious reader like Hamilton, that’s excruciating.

One way to ease the pain in her hands is to keep them active. Coloring with her array of colored pencils does that.

But she does more than that.

Over Christmas, she started cutting out the finished pages and affixing them to construction paper using the zig-zag stitch of her sewing machine to make greeting cards.

“My intention is to make these and give them in packs of six to the wonderful nurses at Southwest Women’s Oncology,” she said. “They take such good care of me. One has been with me for 11 years when I started on this journey.”

Making the cards, she said, not only helps to alleviate the pain in her hands but it alleviates the stress of dealing with cancer and COVID-19 at the same time. Sharon, who is 68, knows the way ahead may get rougher, may be shorter. But she said she is grateful for whatever time she is given.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I’ve had so many good years. But I’m still wanting more.”

Because her immune system is suppressed by chemotherapy, she stays home, relying on her friends, neighbors and a group of fellow retired teachers who call themselves the Sturdy Girls to run errands for her, deliver food and staples and care for her backyard chickens.

“I am very blessed to have a great support system,” she said.

Maybe that’s because all her life she has given so much of herself to others. Now others are giving to her.

Still, she’s not done giving. The colored cards she makes as gifts are part of that giving. The idea to make these cards, make a little art, is the gift she gives to you.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793,, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

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