It has taken a journey of many years — one she will share Saturday afternoon, Feb. 11, at Camden Public Library — but Maureen Egan is secure in her role of artist. That and her others — wife, mother, caregiver, gardener and nature-lover — come together in “The Light From Here: A Breast Cancer Story,” a book that combines her paintings and essays.

Egan will speak of her process, work and the decade covered in her book beginning 4 p.m. Feb. 11 at the library, followed by a reading and book signing. NOTE: DUE TO SNOW, EVENT WILL TAKE PLACE FEB. 25.

Four years in the making, “The Light From Here” was produced by Egan and her husband, graphic designer Tim Seymour. They live in Rockport, not far from the Ashwood Waldorf School, where Egan worked in administration. Ten years ago, in her mid-40s, she left her job as the school’s admissions director for a more soul-satisfying, if less secure, vocation.

“In my 20s I’d made art, just a little bit, always self-taught. I remembered how happy I’d felt and I wanted to return to that,” she said. “It was a mid-life thing.”

Her first foray had been as a young mother, painting still lifes in between the demands of raising a family. The art served to illustrate a series of recipe postcards, which she and Seymour printed and she drove around to distribute.

“They were everywhere, for a long time — we printed 100,000 of them,” she said, grabbing a handful of the cards from a studio shelf. “I didn’t make much money, but it was fun and I learned a lot about marketing, which I ended up using at Ashwood.”

She had to put the marketing hat back on in November, presenting her book during the Pecha Kucha Night Midcoast at the Camden Opera House and hanging a show at Zoot Coffee a couple of doors down. By January, she felt a visceral pull back to painting; it is her usual season for making art.

The first year, though, she painted full-time, with high hopes of making a living as an artist. A frozen shoulder and practical concerns forced change, but she wanted part-time work that “feeds” the soul. As it happened, a number of elders she knew were in need of help; that need and her experience dovetailed.

“I’ve always been really comfortable, because my grandmother kind of raised me, so I started doing that,” she said. “I end up giving the weekends to the art in the winter; in the summer, I have the garden.”

The backyard garden — Egan is a Maine Master Gardener — gets phased out in October and the painting phased in the following month most years. Initially serving as a source of color, the growing season has “been my therapy,” said Egan.

“If you’re going to be an artist, you have to be able to play,” she said. “I think we all need that.”

The ability to play began to elude Egan a couple of years into her return to art. A fan of constraint, she would begin each winter with a set painting theme; halfway through a series on the seven chakras, she attended a yoga retreat and had what she calls a breakdown or a crisis of the heart. The period that followed tested her and her family on a deep level, as she reveals in the book.

It also tested her ability to paint, because she was flooded with self-doubt. A visiting storyteller suggested Egan begin each canvas with an image that made her safe, something that might not end up in the final work but would enable her to progress. It worked, and she was able to complete the chakra series and begin another anchored by tree imagery. In retrospect, these paintings seem prescient of her next challenge.

“The anxiety thing lasted about two years and was kind of winding down at this point, almost two years later, but I was still trying to paint paintings that were of protection,” she said, turning to the page with a painting titled “Guardian of the Lotus Girl.”

The work was inspired in part by that winter’s Maine Drama Festival at Camden Hills Regional High School, which hosted the fest. The school’s own one-act was "The Odyssey," and Egan was struck by the role of Athena, who sat on a throne “and was painted gold.” That night, Egan slept in her daughter Emily’s room, which has become her studio, because a cold had her coughing and she didn’t want her husband to catch it.

“So I ended up having this long night with a full moon and thinking of Athena and thought … I’m going to make a painting with her! And she always had the owl, and there’s owls in a lot of my things,” she said.

Both places the family has lived have had nesting barred owls nearby, so the sound of their calls is a familiar part of being “awake in the middle of the night, so I stick them in my paintings now and then,” she said.

The last element she added to this painting was a “sort of field of light” that connects Athena and a small figure who may be “me as a child,” Egan said. “This was the last painting that I did before I had my needle biopsies.”

In late spring 2012, Egan was diagnosed with breast cancer, beginning a five-month sojourn on a path familiar to many, yet intensely personal in its experience. Following advice she received later from writing couch Kathrin Seitz, Egan lays out this period openly.

“She said just present the scenes and let them take it however they’re going to take it,” Egan said.

Matching paintings with the chapters that emerged once Egan began “The Light From Here” in earnest was surprisingly easy. While she did paint some works specifically for the book, others, painted pre-diagnosis, were remarkably suited.

“There are diagrams you’re handed when you’re diagnosed. It was amazing to look at the diagrams and see things exactly like in my paintings,” she said, turning to a page with a work titled “Letting Go in the Grove.”

Egan pointed to elements of the work, which was painted during what she calls The Year of Protection. A green circular body on the bottom edge looks like an early cancer cell, she said, while another, red one to the right looks like after “they start getting wonky and it’s not so even and you get little protrusions.”

“And this looks like just like the breast [ducts],” she said, pointing to the grove of the title. “I did this eight months before!”

In fact, all of the pre-cancer year’s paintings have distinctive globular elements that echo the structures in Egan’s patient handouts … and more.

“I had two types of cancer: one makes lumps; and the other makes strings … and every single tree has branches that look like the strings,” she said.

While her artwork seemed to be prepping her for what was happening inside her body, Egan’s pro-actively protective approach to it also laid groundwork for her diagnosis and treatment. One of the hardest chapters to write, she said, was about an intense experience of feeling safe and loved she had at Waldo County General. Throughout the five months of treatment, she had to rely on family and friends, give up being in charge of her own self and let things go.

“I realized that people want to give and thought, OK, I’m going to see what that feels like,” she said.

It’s just not so simple, to say “yes” and everything works out, she added. But she had several friends and acquaintances who were genuinely happy to help, in part because their closer friend or sister hadn’t allowed it and she did. And she learned that part of letting people offer assistance is deciding that what they give is good enough.

“But it’s OK to be specific about what you need, like dietary restrictions,” she said.

And one thing she was given has had a profound effect.

“Someone said to me, if you are going to let go of a body part, picture what else you could let go of — what could you release at the same time, willingly? What I wanted to let go of was my sense, which is very old, a childhood sense, that there is not enough — not enough money, not enough love,” she said.

Creating love in one’s life may be the topic of Egan’s next book … and while “The Light From Here” makes clear from its subtitle that it is focused on breast cancer, that has not been what readers have zeroed in on.

“Almost everybody that I’m hearing from, and I’m getting a lot of feedback, they’re all talking about the marriage stuff," said Egan.

She and Seymour have been married 29 years now and Egan said she knows people who aren’t married who look at them and think they have the perfect marriage.

“And we don’t. We just get up every day and try to be kind to each other. We’re very different and it’s a struggle, more of a struggle for me than him,” she said.

She said she wrote as candidly as she did in part because she wanted to break the myth that just because people have been paired for decades means it’s easier or that “they were lucky to meet their soulmate.”

“It’s not that at all, it’s just that we try, we both try. And you have to try in a different way, lean in a little more, during a challenging period,” she said. “Honestly, the anxiety period was much more challenging than the cancer, because I was ashamed of that; whereas cancer, especially breast cancer, there’s this great big pink club, right? Everybody kind of knows, roughly, what to do.”

The thing Egan is confident about doing is telling stories, in art and in words. And the work she does with the elderly has led her to think about how simple, and profound, that work is.

“Sometimes I do things like take them to an appointment or go shopping, but mostly what I do is just love them,” Egan said.

Egan worked with one woman for eight years. For the last year of the woman’s life, Egan’s visits consisted, for the most part, of sitting nearby and holding hands.

“I’ve learned a lot about being really present by this work, and I love it,” she said. “I kind of dissed it at the beginning, you know, ‘I’ve got a college education,’ but I finally realized that for me, it’s the perfect antidote to being in the studio.”

In mid-January, Egan was back in her sunny studio, no theme established but putting acrylics to canvas — bigger canvases than she usually works with, and much bigger than the 5-by-5-inch squares she began with 10 years ago. Then, she was painting pears; now, she is thinking about experimenting with abstraction.

In both painting and writing, Egan said, “It’s all about putting the time in, putting your butt in the seat!” While writing her book, she said, she would remember things and write them down, finding that later, sharper, more accurate memories would emerge.

“I attribute this to making a commitment to writing about something. I showed up at my writing desk and started the process of remembering,” she said.

A version of this happens with painting, too. She said she works for no more than two hours in the studio, then steps away for at least a day, often two. When she returns, she often finds the painting ready to progress.

“It’s not always tidy and sequential like that, but this happens enough that I trust in it now,” she said.

There’s something else she trusts, something that has been consistent ever since her first steps to becoming an artist.

“I’ve learned that art is really helpful to me to process and just make me feel better. Being around the color is very soothing,” Egan said, “It’s all about the color, it always has been.”

Some of Egan’s colorful paintings will be available as postcards after the library talk, as will her book. “The Light From Here: A Breast Cancer Story” can be found in Camden at Owl & Turtle, The Shop Next Door and Zoot Coffee. The book also is available on Egan’s website,, as are prints of her work.