Robin Lawrence has hurdled many obstacles throughout her life, from battling melanoma in the early 2000s to now facing Stage 4 anal and rectal cancer with heavy metastasis to the liver. Through it all, she has maintained her positivity, drawn strength and courage from her beloved daughter and caretaker Kori June, and found a way to inspire others.
Lawrence, a former marketing director at the Evansville Cancer Center, now spends her days in her garden, focused on tending to her Monarch butterflies. In September 2018, nine months after she was diagnosed, Lawrence’s friends took her to John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky, for her birthday to tag and release Monarch butterflies during their annual migration to Mexico. It was then she came up with the idea to raise and release Monarchs of her own as a therapeutic way to cope with her disease. Later that year, she began sharing news of her butterflies’ metamorphoses on a Facebook page called “The Robin’s Nest,” an affectionate name given to her home by friends.
Along with raising and releasing the Monarchs, the Evansville-born, Richland, Indiana-raised Lawrence spends her time in the winter on her newfound artistic talents, painting and drawing scenes from her garden that she has photographed in the Spring and Summer. Initially reluctant to sell her work, she has now sold several artworks to friends and family, depicting the wildlife found in her garden including robins and cardinals and of course, Monarchs.
To date, Lawrence, 61, has raised and released more than 700 Monarchs, and her garden is a Monarch Waystation certified by Monarch Watch — one of nine in Newburgh — that provides food and habitat for the Monarch population. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Monarchs themselves are on the brink of extinction, and Lawrence’s efforts benefit the ecosystem as much as her own mental health.
How did you react when you found out you had terminal cancer?
I was in total shock when I found out I had cancer, because I had been so athletic and so health conscious. Everything I ate, everything I did was for my health. So that came as a shock to me. Dr. (Christopher) Braden said (I had) the worst liver he’s ever seen. So right away, I had to go on a very, very aggressive treatment called cisplatin and then 5FU chemotherapy, and I got down to 90 pounds. After a few appointments, he said, “I only gave you six to seven months to live, and here you are at 15 months now. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”
What is your connection to Monarch butterflies? Why do you raise and release them?
I’ve always loved butterflies, especially Monarchs, and the reason I take them inside is because outside, they have less than a 10 percent chance of survival. They get eaten by birds, praying mantises, spiders. I was so sad that something so beautiful would be close to extinction. I stand back here for hours, and I just watch them flutter from flower to flower. In the wintertime, I stay busy doing my artwork, and then in the summertime, I’m out here working on my flowers and I’m already trying to figure out where I’m going to put more milkweed (a native host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars).
How has raising Monarchs become therapeutic for you?
They need me as much as I need them. They gave me a purpose to get out of bed and to focus on something other than cancer. Every morning when I wake up, I know I have cancer. I could dwell on it and I could be negative about it, but I won’t do that. Yeah, I’m afraid of dying. Who isn’t, you know? I just want people to start to live their life with purpose and to give them hope. I’m not supposed to be here, but for the grace of God, I am. He’s given me another three years already, and I’m fighting it.