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Cancer survivor’s dragonfly lead wire sculptures give hope in dark

After battling cancer twice and winning, former 'Flonner Sid Overby has taken his creative urge to create sculptures for other people going through hard times.

After battling cancer twice and winning, former 'Flonner Sid Overby has taken his creative urge to create sculptures for other people going through hard times.

A retiree originally from Flin Flon, Overby has taken to creating sculptures for he and his family, often depicting an animal he feels drawn to as a good luck and growth symbol - the dragonfly. The copper pieces are made by hand by Overby in his workshop, usually given away to friends, family, or even total strangers who have gone through what he has.

Overby was born in Flin Flon and raised in the north during the booming ‘50s and ‘60s, spending parts of four decades working mining jobs before retiring in 2003. After that, Overby moved away, first to the wheel of an RV and eventually to Cudworth, Sask., where he and his wife Diane now live.

It was in 2013 when Overby’s life changed - a routine check-up found he had higher-than-normal levels of prostate-specific antigen, a red flag for possible prostate cancer. A biopsy and further procedures confirmed Overby’s worst fear - he had prostate cancer and would require immediate treatment.

“When I got that phone call and they told me what I had, I just said ‘How long?’ I remember that. ‘How long have I got to live?’” Overby said.

Overby had the good fortune to beat the cancer away after surgery, ringing a celebratory bell in the cancer ward to signal that his treatment was successful.

While recovering at home and looking for something to do to pass the time, Overby was drawn to the form of the dragonfly - a symbol of good luck, an animal Overby sees as a guardian angel of sorts. In the art of several Indigenous tribes, dragonflies are seen as symbols of rebirth and renewal, while in China, they’re seen as good luck charms.

“On the outskirts of our town, there's a baseball diamond, then there’s just farmer's fields as far as you can see. I just wanted to run, keep on running, don't bother coming back. That's the emotion that I got out of being diagnosed with having that cancer,” he said.

“The dragonfly gave me an awful lot of relief, a lot of kindness. It gives me this feeling like I can help somebody feeling what I felt that day.”

Overby takes copper lead wire - a callback to his old days underground, where it’s used for setting off explosives - and twists it and tweaks it until, after dozens of manipulations, it assumes the form of a dragonfly. He gets the wire from a drilling company located not far from home. The centre piece that makes up the body is hand-spun together from different strands of wire in his shop - the wings, legs and others come on later.

“The whole series of the wings is one long strand of wire - just the wings,” he said.

“Then I get pieces I cut up into eight and I braid them into the body in the front. Once I get the wings where I want to, I braid them back and forth and make the legs… after the wire is all twisted, it can take me an hour to make one.”

The dragonfly isn’t the only animal Overby twists into shape from the wire - he also does different animals like butterflies, fish, bees, scorpions, lobsters and others. He also makes other crafts from different items, usually ones donated to him, but the dragonfly pieces are the most meaningful.

“Legend has it that dragonflies have two sets of wings so that angels can ride on their backs. When you see a dragonfly, it means that an angel is paying you a visit,” he said.

Overby does not like to charge for his pieces - in fact, he gives many of them away for free, particularly to people who are suffering from health struggles, including people with cancer and their families. Some of his pieces hang in hospitals and cancer wards, including in St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, where Overby’s own cancer journey began.

“I give dragonflies to random people, but mostly to cancer survivors - also to people who have suffered loss of a loved one. That's the people,” he said.

“Out of every 10 people I give these to, about seven will have a small meltdown, a little cry. They’ll explain themselves - they’ll say ‘my mother just died’ or ‘my son died’.”

The art also got Overby through an even-more challenging round two. A year after being initially cleared for cancer, Overby got a call no cancer survivor wants to receive. The disease had resurfaced and once again, it was aggressive.

About a week into treatment, the Overbys were leaving Prince Albert, heading back home when Diane began experiencing chest discomfort. An ambulance was called and she was taken to Saskatoon, where that chest pain was found to be an aortic dissection - a rupture in the body’s biggest artery. Aortic dissections are not usually found in surviving patients and Diane’s fate was far from certain - her family was called to the hospital at one point, preparing to say their goodbyes - but Diane survived and made a full recovery, spending time in the same hospital where Sid was undergoing radiation.

After 33 separate radiation treatments and health scares for both husband and wife, Sid rang the bell for a second time. Both Sid and Diane have had clean bills of health ever since.

Overby said he took a long time to find his niche in life - now that he’s fought through health scares with him and those close to him, he’s especially proud that he has found a way to leave a mark.

“I was told as a as a little kid growing up, I had some learning issues - not the brightest person in the classroom, they always sent me for extra work. This one guy came in one time and he he gave me a whole bunch of tests to do, one on one in a room. After the tests, I remember him saying to me, ‘Whatever you do in life, you're going to have to make your living with your hands.’ What did I know? It took all those years for that to come out in me. Now, I have an opportunity now to show what I can do. I just love doing that,” Overby said.

“To me, it’s emotion - I made someone feel good. I’m giving something good out thre. I feel like I’m doing good. I am a fighter. I am a survivor - and life is good.”