When Quiana Parks was 19, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, a deadly form of blood cancer. Following her diagnosis, Parks, a college freshman at the time, started radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
“The chemo and cancer had a huge impact on me, physically and emotionally,” Parks, who is now a 14-year survivor, told HuffPost. “Physically, it made me weak, it made me tired. I lost weight, [and] eventually lost my hair, which is very difficult for me.”
Parks finished her chemo after a few months, but it took much longer for her to really adjust to the new facts of her life ― especially when she learned there’s a 90% chance her cancer will return at some point.
“I freaked out after the cancer was gone,” she said. “I was just so afraid to do anything and live my life for eight years until I started DJing.”
Parks grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. Between her Pentecostal church community and her stepfather, who is a DJ, music had always been a presence in her life. She’d always had a talent for painting, and didn’t set out to make music her vocation. But at the age of 27, after doing some graphic design work for a DJ, she was encouraged to come to a club to watch him entertain. That night ultimately changed Parks’ life.
“I was really, really depressed. I had never been to the clubs like that. And we went to Meatpacking in Manhattan one night, and that’s all it took,” she said. “I went to the club for three months. Seven days, every night, we were out at the club, and I was fascinated.”
Parks fell in love with the way DJing allowed her to interact with an audience. She now credits music with saving her life. The practice became a safe space for her, providing an environment where she felt brave enough to share her story about battling cancer. By 2014, her commitment to sharing her narrative led her to help start an event called “DJ for a Cure” ― a silent art auction aimed at raising money for lymphoma and leukemia research.
While DJing has become a major part of her life, Parks still uses painting as a way to document various aspects of her world.
“I tell my story through my art, and my art comes in different mediums. It can come in an oil painting or I do it on the turntables,” she told HuffPost. “I will always tell my story, just to encourage other people to be strong.”
Parks’ work explores a number of subjects ― some strikingly personal, like her recent decision to come out to her mother as a queer woman. She grew up in a Pentecostal church with a grandfather who was a bishop, and this is reflected in her work. And it’s important to her to create images that highlight women of color, given the role they played in her upbringing.
“I can only paint to what I know, and that’s what I grew up around, were so many different women of color,” she said. “I went to Paris for the first time maybe two years ago, and then the museums, I didn’t see many of us. I didn’t see many strong women of color, and I want to paint more, because I want to see us in museums.”
Above all, Parks sees it as her mission to motivate people to live fearlessly, because no one knows what might happen tomorrow.
“I don’t feel like my stories are meant for me,” she said. “I feel like this is me giving back and connecting with other people. Tomorrow, you might not be here.”
“Again, tomorrow my cancer might come back,” she went on. “But if you don’t live this moment and you let fear get in the way, you just lost a minute.”