Nonprofit helps cancer patients see beauty in world, themselves

Atlanta artist, Biviana Franco (from left) helps Amanda Hopkins and Sharondalyn Newton created artwork & jewelry at the Feel Beautiful Today studio in Roswell. Bivi created Feel Beautiful Today to help cancer patients by going to hospitals and helping them make jewelry and do other projects aimed at making them feel beautiful during a touch time. Photo by Phil Skinner

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Atlanta artist, Biviana Franco (from left) helps Amanda Hopkins and Sharondalyn Newton created artwork & jewelry at the Feel Beautiful Today studio in Roswell. Bivi created Feel Beautiful Today to help cancer patients by going to hospitals and helping them make jewelry and do other projects aimed at making them feel beautiful during a touch time. Photo by Phil Skinner

Roswell artist Bivi Franco has devoted nearly 10 years to trying to lift the spirits of cancer patients with handmade jewelry and other artistry.

"I'm not a doctor. I'm not someone who can cure cancer," said Franco, founder and director of the nonprofit Feel Beautiful Today (www.feelbeautifultoday.org). "But I felt I needed to be love-in-action and do something."

Franco and a team of 10 volunteers – many cancer survivors themselves – are regularly in infusion and radiation centers across metro Atlanta, providing love, support and a welcome distraction to cancer patients.

To date, about 10,130 metro Atlantans have benefited from nine programs Franco has created that are free to cancer patients and survivors and that play to her passion for art.

In one program, volunteers bring high-end supplies into hospitals and help patients create keepsake bracelets of precious stones, crystals, and fresh pearls while they’re waiting for or receiving treatments. All the programs — including those involving mixed media and photography — are funded through donations and focus on uplifting the patients by helping them see the beauty in art and in themselves.

“What we do allows patients to have some beautiful time – some meaningful time – away from the concept of cancer,” Franco said. “At least for a little while, they forget about feeling sick or how anxious they are.”

Northside is one of 13 hospitals in metro Atlanta that has opened its doors to Franco’s program for several years.

“It’s a phenomenal program,” said Kymberly Duncan, survivorship coordinator at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute.

The bracelets that the patients make and keep “are usually a pick-me-up if a patient is having a bad day or they just started treatment,” she said. “It’s just kind of something extra to boost their spirits.”

Breast cancer survivor Mona Fletcher met Franco six years ago when Franco was hosting a survivors’ workshop at Camp Hope.

“Bivi touches a lot of cancer survivors’ lives,” said Fletcher, who has participated in Feel Beautiful Today programs, including the quarterly workshops held at Nordstrom at Perimeter Mall. “Her calming and caring demeanor is therapeutic.”

Lisa Walters, 47, of Canton, said she met nine brave cancer patients and survivors whom she now calls friends at one of Franco’s arts and crafts workshops.

“Those who have not gone through cancer don’t understand what we’ve been through, though they try,” said Walters, whose 2017 breast cancer diagnosis required three surgeries, six rounds of chemo and 11 rounds of immunotherapy. “Life after cancer is quite an adjustment, a roller coaster ride, but having this group of women who really do get what you’re feeling is amazing.”

Walters, Fletcher, and other cancer survivors have been part of “The Warrior Within,” a narrative photo exhibit that Franco created that has been on display at local hospitals and has been made into a book.

The exhibit is meant to “create an awareness that this patient is not only a cancer patient but a human being like you and me,” Franco said.

Some of “The Warrior Within” models also appear in an annual fashion show that is the nonprofit’s big fundraiser.

A professional artist and designer, Franco said she was inspired to create the nonprofit after an aunt and two close friends were diagnosed with cancer. Only one of the friends survived. The mission became even more personal in 2015 when her mother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Franco said.

She said her goal is to remind cancer patients that no matter how the disease ravages the body, the spirit is forever beautiful.

“Cancer may affect the physical being. But the beauty within will continue to glow with hope,” Franco said.


WHAT INSPIRES BIVIANA “BIVI” FRANCO

“Since I was a child I realized that art was going to be part of my life. At a very early age, I began to paint, draw, design and create all types of projects which led me to my degree in design.”

When did you decide that you wanted to put your artistic/design talents to helping cancer patients?

“Seeing the pain and struggles of my aunt and two friends battling cancer I was moved to make a difference by giving them hope through something beautiful.”

What’s the most rewarding about doing this?

“Perhaps the most rewarding part of FBT is getting to witness the change in the patient’s demeanor. Some come into our workshops with a lot of pain and anxiety because of their treatments. Then, at the end of the workshop, their attitude has changed drastically. They begin to smile, to laugh, to share with others and for a moment their pain is gone. Their sense of satisfaction is incredible, along with their tears of joy and hugs and thank yous.”

How can readers help?

“For 2020, our goal is to provide another 1,500 cancer patients with our programs free of charge. In order to make that happen, we need more volunteers and donations.”

HELP US INSPIRE ATLANTA

We recognize a big part of our journalistic mission is to shine a spotlight on wrongdoings and to hold our public officials accountable.

But we also understand the importance of celebrating our region’s moments, milestones and people. That’s exactly what we hope to accomplish with Inspire Atlanta.

Each week, Inspire Atlanta will profile a person that makes metro Atlanta a better place in which to live.

Of course, we can't do this alone: We need your help in finding extraordinary people and identifying inspiring stories across our region. We learned about Bivi Franco from fellow artist Pat Fiorello of Sandy Springs.

Know someone who inspires you or makes metro Atlanta a better place for others?

Email us at inspireatlanta@ajc.com.