Janssen proudly features artwork created by people affected by the illnesses and diseases that we are dedicated to helping prevent and treat. Please visit our art gallery to learn more about the artists and view more artwork.
Watching Dennis Frohlich, an assistant professor of mass communications at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, stroll the school’s leafy campus on the way to class, you’d never suspect his inner pain.
Dennis suffers from ulcerative colitis (UC), part of a group of disorders known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It’s a condition he’s had to live with, and overcome, since 2007, at the end of his junior year at North Dakota State University.
“I began experiencing stomach pain and diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by blood in my stool, and getting through each day was challenging,” he recalls. “I had little control over my bowels, and I'd worry about having an accident. It was like being a toddler again.”
A gamut of tests, including colonoscopy, x-rays, and blood tests, led to his entirely unexpected diagnosis.
Despite complications and hospitalizations over the next year, Dennis earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism on time. However, with no other viable long-term solution in sight for his pain, he agreed to have his colon removed in a series of three surgeries, which meant living with an ostomy, a surgically-created opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes, for more than six months.
While recovering, Dennis tapped into social media. He posted videos about his experience and chatted online with others dealing with similar conditions. At the encouragement of a former professor, he pursued his master’s degree in health communication. He enjoyed this so much, he then earned his doctorate in the same field to get more involved in teaching and research.
His long recovery also gave him time to revisit his latent talent for painting, a creative passion that started in high school.
“I got out my old acrylic paints and brushes, and started putting colors on the canvas,” Dennis says. “The ideas just unfolded. After those surgeries were behind me, I had more time and energy because my health was so much better, and I started painting more and posting my work online. Painting helped me counter the very personal and physical destruction I was living with every day.”
Dennis is still partial to the quick-drying acrylic paints. “I can put things down, wait a little bit, and then add some more,” he says. “I go back and forth and finish a painting quickly. It’s liberating to have that total control.”
And, since he doesn’t have a dedicated studio space, Dennis also likes that he can finish a painting in just a couple of weeks. This way, his materials aren’t taking up too much space in his apartment.
As inflammatory bowel disease attacked his body and his life,
Dennis found meaning and inspiration in his art.
Rediscovering this passion helped Dennis see past his daily struggles to find what’s important in life.
“Before my illness, I would fill the canvas with a vibrant background of sky, leaving a foreground of black silhouettes,” Dennis says. “But now, the earthy stuff is getting more variation. That's where I see my painting and myself evolving — with hope and optimism.”
Dennis also enjoys origami, the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures.
“I started origami in high school, around the same time I started painting,” Dennis says. “I enjoyed how a square sheet of paper, which looks like nothing, after a couple of folds already starts to take on three dimensions.”
Today, he still embraces this challenging art.
“It’s much more limited than painting, and I have a much harder time deviating from instructions or coming up with something on my own,” Dennis says. “But, as I learn what the paper can and can't do, and how the folds divide mathematically into smaller folds and so forth, I start to see the logic of how origami is put together.”
In the same way, Dennis now understands how his health issues have shaped him as a person. While a painful part of his college years, his illness enabled him to meet (and help) many people with the same condition and even taught him he can persevere.
“As I'm farther removed from that critical time, I start to see the value in my illness,” Dennis says. “I've seen setbacks, and I realized … I got through them. I still finished school and pursued my career goals. My Christian faith was rejuvenated, and this faith inspires me. Maybe it didn't happen exactly how I wanted, but life went on, and there were always people to help me out.”
It also opened the door to having his art showcased by Janssen.
“The folks at Janssen found my site and asked me to be one of their featured artists,” he recalled. “They explained how they would use my art and that gave me confidence that they were doing it for the right reasons. They help me to spread my message further.”
Working with Janssen has been part of a journey that further refined the way Dennis viewed his own artwork. “For Janssen, I updated a painting I had done already, but the new version is more optimistic. The tree that had been completely dead now has ribbons. Partnering with Janssen and seeing its appreciation for art has been a great process for me.”
Below, learn more about Dennis and how his creative activities have helped him conquer his IBD and make a difference in the lives of others.