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Sculpture Crafted in Honor of Cancer Doctor’s Impact on Patient’s Life

Patient dedicates piece to Thomas Flaig, MD, in emotional video and event

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Written by Kiley Carroll on November 7, 2022
What You Need To Know

Shelley Kerr, a sculptor and bladder cancer patient, crafted a special piece for her doctor, Thomas Flaig, MD. In an emotional video, she explained her inspiration behind the tribute.

Gifts of significance don’t always have to be large monetary contributions. Sometimes, the most impactful gifts don’t involve money at all.

In 2014, Shelley Kerr, an artist and sculptor from Fort Collins, was diagnosed with bladder cancer and given a 3% chance of living five years. After several years of receiving bad news, she connected with Thomas Flaig, MD, vice chancellor for research and professor of medical oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who specializes in bladder cancer.

Dr Flaig with sculpture
Thomas Flaig and his wife, Insley Puma Flaig, MD, FAAD


Kerr had such a powerful and positive experience at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus that she decided to create a permanent tribute. She sculpted “To Live” and donated the piece to the university in honor of Flaig and the care teams who helped her over the past four years.

On Oct. 24, friends and family of Kerr, along with Flaig and his colleagues, gathered for the dedication, which included a video Kerr recorded to surprise her doctor. Sadly, just a few days after the event, Kerr passed away from her long illness.

"‘To Live’ is dedicated to the passion, commitment and leadership of Dr. Thomas Flaig, an insightful, compassionate doctor and his skilled, innovative leadership at the University of Colorado School of Medicine,” Kerr said in the video.

Kerr said she was “forever grateful” to Flaig and her care team. Cancer, she said in the recording, proved to be both a “brutal, premature event that has perhaps shortened my life,” but also an “expansion of my life that allowed me to care more, love more deeply and maybe be a change agent.”

“I was very moved by Shelley’s touching gift,” said Flaig, a CU Cancer Center member. “Patients like her truly inspire me, and when I pass by this sculpture each day, I’ll always be reminded of why I chose to become an oncologist.” 

 In creating the sculpture, Kerr was inspired by Greek culture, as it was the foundation of modern medicine. The top portion of the piece represents three Greek letters – zeta, alpha and omega – which spell the verb “to live.” Learn more about Kerr’s inspiration in the video below and see the sculpture on display on the first-floor lobby of the Fitzsimons Building.

Photo at top: Members of Shelley Kerr's family, including Grant Meyer, Patrick Meyer, Nick Ramsey and Jim Ramsey, pose with Kerr's sculpture and honoree, Thomas Flaig.