When talented Simbithi artist, Jane Digby, talks about her recent cancer journey, it is refreshing to find that she embraces the experience as somewhat of a ‘necessary evil’.

Wearing a loose-fitting, yellow blouse and a colourful scarf, it is clear that the calm yet passionate Jane is still overwhelmed by the incredible response she received on the opening night of her exhibition, which took place at Simbithi Country Club a few days before our interview.
“I just love the North Coast and its people. The support is so inspiring and I would not want to live anywhere else,” she says while preparing for her next walk-through with a group of art-lovers.
The first part of Jane’s exhibition, If not now, when? focused on the work she is most well-known for – people, landscapes and nature. The second part, however, Hymn to Her, depicts a very different, deeply personal story about Jane’s recent journey with cancer. Set in a sombre, intimate space, this installation forces you to face the harsh reality of cancer and how it strips a person down to bare skin and bones.

One of the hauntingly beautiful paintings from the ‘Hymn to Her’ exhibition.

“My daughter, Tayla, got me started with Hymn to Her. She took incredible photos of me for a project she worked on, entitled ‘Out of Centre’. Eventually, I asked her if I could paint them.”
Jane was diagnosed with an extremely fast-growing tumour in October last year – a tough time that called her to canvas after canvas.

“The painting process was my therapy. These paintings come from raw emotions, honestly. We feel these emotions in the middle of the night when it is quiet and we cannot sleep. We don’t show them to our friends and family, because we are strong women,” says Jane, who had the incredible intuition to immediately point out the cause of this aggressive form of breast cancer.

“I was out of control with stress when my mom’s Alzheimers started to get more severe and I believe the cancer was caused by that immense tension. She is my mom; she is so strong and the matriarch of the family, and to see her shrivel up like that was just unbearable.”

Jane Digby loves painting landscapes and often adds her signature , abstract vertical lines into the paintings.

Receiving confirmation that she had cancer was a heart-wrenching time, but she knew it was going to be ok and that this was her moment to re-balance herself.
“I believe you get cancer because you are out of centre. It is not your fault, we all go through that, but it made me realise I needed to use it and re-centre myself. I never once thought that I could not beat this thing, it was a journey and it was not all negative.”
She said cancer was a major wake-up call for her and caused a huge shift in her life.
“When you go through something like that, you do not let anything in life slip by you. It made me see and experience life in so much colour. It heightened everything. It forces you to sort out whatever is causing you to be uncentered – be it a bad relationship, the need for more me-time or just slowing down and appreciating your surroundings.”

Jane Digby is renowned for her portrait work.

During her personal pilgrimage, Jane found strength, guidance and mindfulness in reading.
“I’m a spiritual person and I read philosophy on all levels. Cancer got me to tap into incredible writers and poets, which I might not have read if I hadn’t gone through it. It has been a gift. It has given me the attitude of ‘If not now, when?’”

This last year has also made Jane a firm advocate of ‘prevention is better than cure’.
“It is so important to know and listen to your body. If you get a strange feeling, go have it checked out straight away. I believe breasts are miracles – respect them and listen to them. Luckily, I don’t need mine anymore and now I can run on the beach and do handstands!”

Text: Elana Wagner