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A place for friends

“Art’s therapeutic for everyone,” says Kathy Parara, the owner of a new art studio in Shady Cove called A Place for Friends.

“If we don’t want to call it art, we can say, 'playing with paint and paste.' It goes back to our childhood, which is kind of being free and playing.”

Parara has a bit more insight than most people about the therapeutic benefits of art. She was diagnosed with breast cancer Oct. 3, 2011, and spent several years battling the disease into tentative submission.

Parara was an educator for 27 years in the Redwood City and the Santa Clara school districts in California. She and her husband, Kim Parara, were in the middle of relocating to Oregon — already a period of adjustment — when doctors discovered a tumor in her breast.

“I had mammograms starting at age 35, and I was told I was fine,” said Parara. “In reality, I had a tumor growing. I was diagnosed at stage zero, opted for a bilateral mastectomy, and thank God I did, because I had aggressive cancer in the other breast that was not diagnosed.”

She fought her way through eight surgeries in three years.

“It was quite shocking,” the artist said. After the mastectomy and radiation treatments, she developed MRSA, a multiple drug-resistant staph infection that led to infections in different parts of her body.

Her art portrays an appreciation for life, and her battle with the disease is in her work, what she calls “mixed-media collages.”

“My art speaks to my survival. As an educator, I spent a lot of time trying to inspire little girls to be strong and independent,” said Parara. “My art started with basically just appreciating each day. I had a lot of ‘live for the moment,’ ‘enjoy every moment.’ I still do. We are given one day at a time.”

She said she is still passionate about teaching, and she brings her experience as an educator to her role as an artist.

“My world changed. I was teaching, I was 48 years old, and I had no plan of stopping my world of education,” Parara said. After her cancer went into remission, she found that she could take her experiences and make something positive out of them.

“I was given a new life, and I try and embrace that every day,” she said.

She got the business license for her new studio Oct. 3 — the sixth anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis — and she will hold a grand opening and ribbon-cutting that's open to the public Saturday, Oct. 14.

She is offering classes Saturdays and Sundays, and she hosts “pop-up” classes upon request.

In the short time she has been open, she has already gained some regulars, she said. One goal for the shop, she said, “is to provide a gathering place for my community. I want to provide a place for women to gather. One of my goals is to empower women.”

“It’s my classroom again,” she said. “I really want my students to grow in their artistic process. ... I am excited to see people in this very challenging world of ours having fun.”

Saturday's grand opening will run from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 22057 Highway 62, Shady Cove. She can be reached via email at kathyparara@gmail.com.

— Caroline Cabral is a freelance writer living in Ashland. She can be reached at caroline.mae.cabral@gmail.com

Kathy Parara paints Wednesday at her new art studio, called A Place for Friends, in Shady Cove. Parara will hold a ribbon-cutting and open house Saturday. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch