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Finding resurrection and joy in gloomy cakes

Production designer Christina Dy paints on macarons as therapy while undergoing radiation to treat breast cancer.

As we celebrate the message of hope that Easter brings, allow me to share the story of a friend who found light amidst darkness, strength in the midst of fear, and joy in spite of sorrow. She is a true inspiration.

Her name is Christina Dy.

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She is a visual artist: a recipient of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 13 Artists Award in 2009, a participant at the Busan Biennale, while also doing solo shows (see christinady.com). She is also an award-winning production designer (her works include Big Time and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros). Extending her artistry to the performing arts, she also created Polecats Manila, changing the perspective of pole dancing from banal and sleazy to brilliant and creative through lessons and performances.

Last year, she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. It was devastating news, as cancer goes, but “CD,” as she is called by friends, while pragmatic enough to admit her lows, did not wallow in pity or allow the diagnosis to get her down.

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Instead, she turned to art. In the past, she had also turned to pole dancing. In fact, the story of how she created Polecats Manila—to heal her heart after breaking up with a boyfriend—was so moving that Maalala Mo Kaya in 2016 even did an episode on her story (Jessie Mendiola portrayed her).

This time, she also had to find a new medium of expression. And she did … in the kitchen.

“Suddenly I couldn’t do pole anymore. So I had to figure out what to do with my time. I didn’t want to do any serious ‘art’ so I decided to draw on food,” she recalls.

She started with macarons for a very realistic reason: “They seemed less of a commitment. They’re tiny and readily available and less expensive than a cake. If I paint ugly things on them, I can just feed them to my sister and no one has to know.”

Then she moved on to cakes. “After macarons, the cakes came next naturally so that I would have a bigger painting area.”

She learned to do art on her new canvass, thanks to Google.

The cakes are baked by her friend Rachelle Sarzona, former pastry chef at Shangri-La Fort, who now has her own pastry brand, I Don’t Make Sweet Desserts. Then CD paints on them.

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CD posted about the first cake that she painted on, she recalls vividly, on Feb. 27 this year, and got her first order on the same day.

Note that CD does not offer your usual cake art—no characters or kiddie themes for her. Neither are her cakes bright, festive, chirpy.

In fact, her cake art is black and white. “I never really liked colors. I don’t understand them,” she explains.

Her cakes are simply edible versions of her art.

And as art has helped her in the past, they did help her heal emotionally this time as well. “Painting on cakes helped relieve my feelings of not being productive. It was nice being able to produce something without the stress of an art show,” she shares.

Turning her sadness into a thing of beauty. Christina Dy painted on cakes to relieve her of stress while undergoing breast cancer treatment.

It did not erase the other pains she had to go through, though. She hates having what she calls a “blistery boob.”

“With a blistery boob, all you can do is think while lying motionless. Everything else is painful … What cancer has taught me is that all I have is today. Now. What will I do now?” she once mulled candidly on Facebook.

But she pulled herself together with resolve: “How many times have I thought of making this artwork or learning this piano piece, but said ‘I’ll just do it tomorrow? Then tomorrow again. And again. Well guess what CD, today was yesterday’s tomorrow and have you done it yet?’ And now my attention and energy and resources are directed somewhere else. So yes, what will I do today?”

She managed to pull herself together, learning gratitude and optimism: “I never thought that the biggest challenge of my life would be a blistery boob. During times like this, I cannot stress enough the importance of doing something fun and having something to look forward to. Today I went out and took a silversmithing workshop, and getting dressed was painful, but I made it and had so much fun and forgot the blisters for four hours … Tomorrow, after the hospital, I plan on going to ArtBar and All About Baking and will look at all the pretty supplies and get inspired to create new things. And having that purpose makes the discomfort and pain worth it.”

Her advice to those going through challenges like hers: “Do something that gives you joy every day. It doesn’t have to be big. Just something. For me, it’s painting on macarons or cakes, playing with origami and chocolate, making clay cakes, making nonsense abstract paintings. It’s important to have something to look forward to every day, because it’s so much easier to just be angry and give up.”

Just last month, CD turned 43. Although she will still be on a pill for 10 years, she is now considered a breast cancer survivor, after having undergone a lumpectomy and after “graduating” from radiation.

It is evident—and heartwarming—that after her Black Saturday, by grace, she found her personal Easter morning, as she wrote poetically on her birthday: “So many things in life I have no control over, but I can always choose the kind of person I want to be. And right now, I want to be the kind of person who laughs, makes time for herself, takes things slow, listens, tries to make the world a better place, sleeps (who knew I’d love sleep this much), plays with new silly ideas (like painting on macarons), says thank you for each day, wears eyeliner and red lipstick just because.”

I thought of sharing CD’s story today, on Easter Sunday, because that is what today is about: celebrating the fullness of life. As Cardinal Tagle said in his book “The Risk of Hope,” Easter is “not just a return to earthly life but an assumption of a new life in the presence of the Father, which is the fullness of life.”

I hope that you find your Easter morning, too, and celebrate the fullness of life by the grace of God, in the presence of the Father—today and every day.

Happy Easter!

Cakes with art by Christina Dy are available at “I Don’t Make Sweet Desserts.” For orders, contact 0999-8813932 or visit “I Don’t Make Sweet Desserts” on Facebook or Instagram. For other art by Christina Dy, visit her Instagram page @christinadyart or her website christinady.com.

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