Nina Beaty was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) in January 2014 after a low-dose CT scan. More than a year later, she enrolled in an immunotherapy clinical trial using the drug Opdivo. As a granddaughter of Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, Nina comes by her creativity naturally. She agreed to join us in a conversation about how her artistic side facilitated healing while dealing with her own cancer diagnosis and how she hopes her new animated emojis —EmPat Stickers— will help others in the lung cancer community.
Nina’s animated emojis are a special feature on our Lung Cancer Awareness Month webpage.
How did EmPat stickers start?
The idea popped up when I was stuck in the treatment chair for hours getting chemo. I was bored and texting friends to update them on how I felt. I looked at the emojis that came pre-loaded on my cell phone and thought, “Nope. These emojis are just not going to say what I want to say about having cancer.”
What were they missing?
I guess feelings. The graphics used in emojis are devoid of real expression. There’s no subtlety to them. For example, a round yellow emoji with a faucet of tears running down its face would not express the sad, quiet despair I was feeling about my illness. When I was healthy, I might have sent an emoji of a rooster or a Flamenco dancing lady, but now they seemed irrelevant.
What made you think you could design an emoji app? It seems like a bit of a leap.
I wasn’t confident, but I’m an artist and used art as an outlet to keep myself positive and entertained. I had already begun drawing cartoons about the ups and downs and sideways of dealing with cancer. When I had this idea, I found a black sketchbook and started thinking with my pencil about what my emotional reactions are and what characters might look like who could convey these emotions. I should add that years ago, I received a BFA in film, majoring in animation, and also received a master’s degree in art therapy. So this was my skill set, cartooning coupled with self-expression, which was where my creativity was already rooted.
Luckily, I was able to find wonderful people to help me make the whole thing happen. My characters Em and Pat and the situations they find themselves going through are 100% based on my own experience as a cancer patient and by asking others this simple question “What emoji would you want to see that speaks directly to your experience with cancer? “
From there, I was able to compile a list that included a range of feelings from gratitude to sadness, fear and anxiety, to hopefulness and joy, all of which you see in the animated emojis.
I see that you’re only charging 99¢ and giving away a percentage to cancer groups. That’s really wonderful.
Thank you. From the beginning, I always thought of this as a legacy project, a contribution of something hopeful I could leave in the world. I’m so happy I was able to remain well long enough to finish it.
How are you doing now? Do you think doing a creative project like this had an impact on your survivorship?
I’m doing well. The immunotherapy treatment has been successful at keeping my tumors from growing. And yes, I think taking on this project had a positive effect on me. It kept me focused and engaged on something other than thinking of myself solely as a person dealing with cancer. Of course, the EmPat stickers are about having cancer, but in this case, I could DO something positive while exploring my own experience with cancer to benefit others. I’m so very thankful that I could find the humor in it to keep me going.