We were proud to interview freelance artist, Karen Gozzo Nolan for a feature in Adrenal Alternatives Foundation’s Adrenal Achievements Series!
Karen Gozzo Nolan was born in Connecticut. She resided in Connecticut until she was 28 and then relocated to Vermont. Always a lover of art, life didn’t allow her the pleasures of following her dream of being an abstract painter in her younger life.
Karen painted abstracts throughout her life, though being a single mother, it was difficult to dedicate herself to art. Karen had also spent many years battling a rare pituitary tumor. After a near death experience, Karen vowed to live life to its fullest, and to follow her passion of art.
It wasn’t until relocating to Rotonda West, Florida in 2013, that she was well enough to pursue this dream. Shortly after making the move, she began her professional career as an abstract artist.
Karen is a primarily self taught abstract expressionist. Her paintings are influenced by music, the emotion that comes from it, and her love for vibrant color.
The paint and brush become the instrument and art is the song it plays. Music is the inspiration for my art. It begins by selecting musical artist for the piece, and laying out my medium as rainbow before me. The emotion of the music will choose the palette, along with an assortment of tools. The process is very private, exhilarating, yet exhausting in a good way. Disappearing into the art my tools become the instruments, the paint becomes the music. Once a piece has begun, it moves forward with the same musical artist until complete. I have been labeled an abstract expressionist by my peers. My paintings are emotionally vibrant, and painted with the passion of the song. As far as my memory goes, connecting music with color was something I thought everyone did. At different periods in my life, I would paint this connection. Imagine, color connecting with sound. Synesthesia, is a gift in which two neurological senses connect, for me its color and sound. Creating art professionally has been my dream since childhood, and the path to this dream has been rewardingly bumpy. As a self taught artist, I am devoted professionally to pursuing my dream and to continue to create art to please the eye for years to come.
Q-Please introduce yourself?
A- Hello, gosh it is so hard to describe who I am, first thing I think of would be a woman who was met with many challenges, during her years, yet overcome them with strength, bravery, love for life, and full of dreams. You can read my bio at the end of this article.
Q-What form of adrenal disease were you diagnosed with
A-I was diagnosed with Secondary Adrenal insufficiency after two pituitary surgeries damaged my pituitary. I have 1/3rd of the pituitary remaining and it is non functioning except for the posterior section. The surgeries were performed because I was diagnosed with Cyclic Cushing’s Disease. I did get a “cure” from Cushing’s with the second surgery, but have to replace all hormones.
Q-Can you tell us about your service dog you had to help you manage your adrenal disease
A-One year ago I lost my service dog Gus at the age of 17. We volunteered in the hospital for 13 years together as a team, visiting pediatrics and the chemotherapy lab. While I was volunteering with him, if I suddenly grew ill, he went through each step with me and alerted that I needed help. I had several negative side effects from my surgeries, two of them being seizures and sodium crashes. I had several addison’s crisis as I was weaning off of a very high dose of steroids. Gus would alert and me that I was low in cortisol. He would stick close to me, follow me and would lick my fingers rapidly. I hadn’t figured it out for a bit, but he was telling me crisis was coming. He became my service dog then.
Once back to work in the hospital, my boy did some amazing things. He was always amazing but one time he alerted on a small boy for seizure. I had no idea he was doing it. He was always well behaved in hospital, but this day he was barking his head off, looking at me, and the boy’s Mom. Not fully understanding what he was doing at that point. One month went by and I was in the lobby of the Hospital, I could see a woman was flagging me down from the other side of the lobby. Upon approaching me she asked if I remembered her (which I didn’t) but then she said, “Your dog was barking in my boys’ room. I just wanted to tell you that he was alerting for the impending grand mal seizure. My Son went into seizure within 2 minutes of the time you left.” The hair stood up on my arms because I was shocked. Gus must have learned the scent of impending health danger from alerting on me!
Three months after Gus passed, I decided to rescue a Yorkie puppy and hopefully train him to be my service dog. He is smart, so sweet, and loving. He is already very in tune to my emotions and scent. Finn knows when I am not feeling well, he does not leave my side. Finn has just turned one year old recently and now is ready for more training. This when the serious work begins, it will be more difficult now because I manage my disease well. But don’t get me wrong, I have my days. Finny will be a great service dog someday.
Q-Can you tell us about your art?
A- While painting, I disappear into a place where there is nothing but music, my hands and color. No thoughts of everyday life. I am just there, in the moment. It is very freeing and like a meditation. It is therapy. The paintings are rarely planned and I more often paint in the expressionistic style. Large paintings are my passion, more room for expression.
Q- How do you use your art to help you cope with adrenal disease?
A-Art has allowed me to fulfill a lifelong passion. At a young age I had decided that I was going to study art in college, that didn’t happen. But the passion stayed. Always making different things, and here and there I would paint and give them to friends. Then I became a single mother, so art supplies were scarce. Still the passion was within. Later in life, after going through the two brain surgeries I knew I was going to pursue art as a career. With my last surgery in 2007, I experienced a CSF leak (cerebral Spinal Fluid leak) so it took me a while to recover. After having the two back to back surgeries, it took a lot of work and determination to recover. Cushing’s disease robs me of everything! It took my strength, my looks, my health, every aspect of my life. It was a long road to recovery. I painted a bit in recovery, and the paintings were always abstract and always to music, still not realizing that I was actually painting the emotion of the music.
As we know with adrenal disease stress is a “no no.” Painting is a stress reliever and an anxiety crusher. When you think of painting, I bet you think of a person sitting at an easel. Painting a large abstract can be very exhausting, a lot of motion, using all types of tools and painter’s knives. I rarely use a brush and never sit. It is quite a workout, but it manages the stresses of life and as the result you have made something beautiful!
Q- What is something you wish you could tell all adrenal disease patients?
A- We are all so different, all having different causes for Adrenal insufficiency. I believe the best thing that you could do for yourself, would be to read. If you have a question ask it, or ask Mr. Google and read respected sources, educate yourself, learn everything about your own body, pay attention to what your doctor is saying and know when to move on and find an expert. You deserve to be cared for with the best of care. Do not settle for a doctor who is not qualified to help you and know when you are being fed medical baloney. Not to sound harsh, but that advice has really helped me. Also, if you’re Secondary AI and do not produce hormones (panhypopituitary), I am hesitant to trust one medical professional to handle the balancing of all of your hormones. I go to a naturopath for thyroid, and reproductive gynecologist for female hormones and DHEA and Testosterone and also pituitary expert to handle steroid and growth hormone. It took me 14 years to figure this out. If one of your hormones is off, they can all be off, so balance is so important.
Q-How has adrenal disease changed your life?
A- It has made me look at life differently. After knocking on the door of the gates of Heaven, you think differently. There is no time for petty things, drama is something to avoid. People who have not experienced a life threatening disease would never understand. We always have to think of the way we feel, small things can trigger a trip to the hospital, it makes you more aware, and appreciative of life. it has pushed me to follow my dreams.
Q-What goals do you hope to accomplish with your art?
A- Artists do not paint for money, they paint because they need to, to soothe their soul. Money is nice though. When my art is exhibited in gallery’s around the world and I am able to leave my name in the art world, my dreams will be fulfilled.
Karen Gozzo Nolan pictured with AAF founder, Winslow Dixon at Karen’s art show in 2018.
Karen is an example of how you can still accomplish your dreams despite your disease! For more information on her work please visit her facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/Karen-Gozzo-Nolan-Art-288525484648179/