Journaling: Pains Migrate Out Through My Fingers Onto the Paper | By: Leslie Sinclair

“I love drawing,” wrote Leslie Sinclair. “It feels like some of the pains migrate out my fingers onto the paper.” During her chemo and radiation treatments for breast cancer, Leslie found journaling not only therapeutic, but as she writes in excerpts from her blog below, it was her job while she was going through treatment. Here are some images (copyrighted work is posted with permission) from her blog, along with excerpts from her journal and blog.

From the journal page on the right, she writes “I have to ask myself if tears always comes from self pity. [dictionary defifition: PITIFUL: 1) compassionate, 2) deserving or arousing pity, or commiseration; b) exciting pitying contempt (as by meanness or inadequacy]. Pity from those who love you is compassion and commiseration.

Since working at an outside job was impossible during this period I felt like using my art this way was my real job. Each day that I was able I felt encouraged and eager to resume work on the journal drawings. I worked slowly and with permanent drawing pens on acid free papers.”

“By the time of the third chemo round I was all over me with jitters. I took Prednisone the night before chemo. It kept me up all night and all the next day. My normally ever so slight right arm tremor was an all out jackhammer on days like these–always in motion unless I leashed it with the left hand.

In part, the [journal] text reads: “Because of the Qur’an I became Muslim and have found the peace to get me through the cancer. I will beat the disease. I am working overtime with the miners as they push the ore cars through my veins and my whole duct system to make the lymph work for me like the tremendous water cannons.”

This third drawing “reflects the topsy-turvy world of chemotherapy. Every part of my skin, even the inside layers feels as if there are pins extending clear through, poking in and out.”

An excerpt from this drawing, in the words of someone significant, but mostly absent to me, reads:
“True Love
– I will love you even if disease makes you ugly
– That love will bring me to comfort you unless it makes me vomit to see you
– Even if I cannot come I will telephone or write letters or cards
– I will tell you what I need to get through this together”

Do you journal or blog about your cancer experience? If so, share a link to your blog!

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The Cancer Poetry Project

“A single poem—heart-rending, fearful, raging, beautiful, grotesque, even hilarious—lets us know we’re not alone in dealing with cancer.” The Cancer Poetry Project, edited by Karin B. Miller, who turned to poetry when her husband was diagnosed with cancer, is accepting submissions through April 30, 2012. Sharpen your pencils, limber up your fingers and your synapses! For some inspiration, read a sampling of The Cancer Poetry Project pieces or purchase the book, including 140 entries.

We’d love for you to share your poetry and any other artistic expression here, too, of course! Send submissions to imroselle@gmail.com.

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Palliative Care for Ralph the Mouse | By: Lianne Bridges

Lianne Bridges wrote this piece last summer. It is such a lovely story of compassion, she generously offered to share it here! Thank you, Lianne.

“The world we knew as children is still buried within our minds. Our childlike self is the deepest level of our being. It is who we really are, and what is real doesn’t go away.” –Marianne Williamson

Life never ceases to amaze me. I constantly experience synchronicity. And with each experience, I receive transformative healing and awakening. Last Sunday, I was feeling alone in my silent reverie, reflecting back nine months to the day when my husband passed away. Just at that moment, the door burst open and the sounds of excited young boys filled the room. “Mom, we have a mouse. He is almost dead,” stated my 10-year-old son. “It looks like Spirit (our cat) got him.”

When I looked into the faces of my two sons and their friend, I saw such immense compassion and eagerness to help this little injured animal, it took my breath away. I stifled the deeply domesticated voice inside me that wanted to scream, “Get that thing out of my house!” and instead, I asked the boys, “What do you want to do with him?”

Determining that the young mouse didn’t have much of a chance surviving his injuries, they suggested “putting him out of his suffering.” They contemplated this for a moment and then realized that they couldn’t come up with a method that was either humane or that they were willing to carry out themselves. So they opted to “make him comfortable” until he died.

“I know what to do, I know a lot about death,” claimed my son. So the boys proceeded to build a miniature palliative care shoebox for the ailing mouse, decked with soft tissue, food, a “handle with care” sign and lid with air holes (to ensure the cat doesn’t take another go at him).

Once the make-shift palliative care box was complete they did a little quiet contemplation, imagining the mouse in healthier, happier times. When the boys suggested that they move him to the room at the front of the house, Grace filled my little world! My husband had passed away in that room, surrounded by family. Since then, I converted it into a quiet room for meditation and prayer. The fact that the boys recognized the sacredness of the space moved me to tears.

The boys left the mouse, which they named Ralph, to lay quietly, while they went to play. After a half hour, they returned to discover that the mouse had passed on. It was clear that all their mindful preparations had helped them deal with their little mouse’s death. They had already discussed what they would do next. Their options included burying him in the palliative care box, but “that would be wasteful” stated their friend. The next option of burning him and saving his ashes or burning an offering of cheese for the mouse couldn’t pass the “do not play with fire” edict in our household. So, they settled on burying the little mouse (sans box) in the ground, complete with a rock headstone.

When they came back from the woods where they had buried Ralph, they had lemonade and leftover birthday cake, while they discussed their experiences with the mouse. It was amazing how they had reenacted the whole death ritual from comforting the dying to burial and celebration of life, all on their own and in the span of an hour. The fact that the boys were in some way modeling what they had experienced with death in such a positive way touched me deeply.

As they road off on their bikes, putting this incident behind them, I looked at the clock– 2:30 p.m. It was exactly nine months to the hour from when our family said a heart-breaking good-bye to Bob. Then it occurred to me that the universe had offered me a beautiful distraction and a subtle reminder of the interconnectedness of all things in nature and in our lives.

Lianne Bridges, founder of Designing Transformation, is an advocate for social change, a whole systems thinker, a social entrepreneur, writer, world citizen and mother.

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Songs in the Key of Life | By: Beth Mastin

On Lizzie’s last visit she retrieved her copy of Stevie Wonder’s album, Songs in the Key of Life. Twenty seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter she had loaned it to me. The intent was that I would record music to play during my hours of labor and that this aptly named music would be her contribution to that envisioned effort. As the final days of pregnancy overtook me, the cassette was never made. Then, in the shuffle of early motherhood, the album was lost to me. But she knew I had it, she knew why she loaned it to me and retrieving it mattered to her.  Although she had no way to play the record, the music encoded in those tiny vinyl tracks was in her heart, and perhaps the fleshy, velvety vortex image on the album cover was something she needed for her passage.

When we parted she left me with a tiny unlined journal. It was a mere three by five inches, with a lovely cover redolent of antique wallpaper. I titled it the Book of Elizabeth–our shared name, knowing I would use it to grieve her death as it approached and as it receded. I took it to the garden with me all summer long. I sat atop a picnic table overlooking the prairie, with views to the lake. I closed my eyes. I felt the wind and the heat on my face. I listened to the birds and insects. I wrote–limited to the few words that would fit on a single page–choosing my words with the precision of a poet. I painted, creating tiny thumbnail sketches that captured a huge tableau of emotion drawn in tiny watercolor lines.

As fall approached, my little Book of Elizabeth had become a sacred relic, recording my meditations, fixing my grieving on the pages. It now included instructions for how to mourn my own death. I walked my husband and children to the picnic table on the prairie, opened the little Book of Elizabeth, and told them of my wishes. Somewhere along about October the Book of Elizabeth was lost to me. I searched high and low. Perhaps I left it on the picnic bench. Perhaps someone picked it up and wondered who wrote it and what it all meant. Just as Songs in the Key of Life had been intended to help my  daughter slip into this world, the little Book of Elizabeth helped in Liz’s passage through the other portal of life. Although I let it slip away, it is not lost to me.

Beth Mastin lives in Madison, WI, where her garden, in all its seasons, is her muse for  writing, painting, bird watching, and reflection.

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Put a Lid on Plastic Waste | By: Tracy Peltier

Put a Lid on Plastic Waste by Tracy Peltier

This hand-sewn piece is made from 100% plastic trash including plastic lids, produce bags and  thread from strips of plastic produce bags. My concept was that nature sprouts from a base of plastic waste–green stems and leaves open up to bright multicolored blossoms.

So why a recycled dress? Recycling is my passion. I can’t stand to put a nice colorful plastic lid in the garbage. I save all sorts of items too good to go in the trash. This year I found a good use for those lids I’ve been saving for years. I entered this piece in the ReStore Trash Fashion Show held in April 2011. The trash fashion show is a good way to see how all this trash can be used in new, beautiful, and artistic ways.

Tracy Peltier is a mom, wife, and architect. She finds creating art to be beneficial to healing from cancer. Visit her blog for her story.

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Eight Words, Thrown Like a Punch | By: Vivian Harris

First, I learned that cancer is not stealth. It arrives with a bang, not a whimper.  With the power of eight words, thrown like a punch, delivered through Facebook to my hotel room across the country where I sat, alone, planning for a business meeting: “Sorry to say that the biopsy was positive.”

I’ve walked 180 miles for breast cancer, all the while meeting uncountable survivors and friends and family members of cancer patients and victims. My sister is a survivor; our favorite aunt a victim. But none of that prepared me for this Facebook message from my lifelong best friend, a woman just like me—same age, same interests, also with a loving husband and two daughters—and also so unlike me. It’s not saying too much to say she is the better version of me.

This summer unfolded like no summer before. Instead of planning our joint family trip to the Cape, we talked about whether she should use a local surgeon or travel 60 miles to a big city hospital.  Rather than sharing stories about our daughters’ first years in college, she schooled me on BRCA testing.  In Julys past, I had reflected on our different taste in beach reading; now I wondered how I would have handled explaining to my daughters about our genetic misfortune. And while I had always thought our 40-year friendship was close, I learned true intimacy while washing her hair and learning to empty her post-surgery drains.

What’s amazing to me, really, is how unchanged my friend is by all of this. I was shaken to the core by her diagnosis and repeatedly shaken awake by the details of her journey, but she somehow remained the same calm, strong, and grounded woman I have always known. We recently sat on lawn chairs in her backyard enjoying the warm sun of an early fall day, talking about our children and our jobs and about life, and it felt, quite amazingly, like it could have been any day in any year.

In the end—and of course, it is not the end; another surgery is around the corner, another family member has been identified as BRCA positive—I learned that cancer is stealth after all. It removed breast tissue only to reveal fathoms of grace; it plunged our friendship into a deep lake of ice water and brought us back to the surface, smiling into the sun.

Vivian Harris is a qualitative research consultant by trade; a wife and mother by fortune; and a lover of words, dogs, open fields, and big cities.

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Does Art Help Us Feel Better?

Cathy Malchiodi’s July 31st Psychology Today article, What is Art For?, gives a nice snapshot of not only what pulls us to express ourselves creatively, but how that expression can nurture and heal us–in whatever form that healing takes. In it, she points to the work of Ellen Dissanayake who “addresses the core value of art’s existence and how the art is really a ‘species-centric’ phenomenon with wide-reaching impact on human survival.” Among the factors she points out, a few jumped out at me, which I quote below:

  • In brief, we engage in the arts because the sensory experience of the arts helps us to feel better. Research in art therapy, music therapy and dance/movement therapy is starting to support Dissanayake’s theory that engaging the senses through the arts has a powerful affect on body/mind, physical perceptions, and cognition.
  • In the realm of the healing arts, research increasingly underscores that making art together (community art programs and engaging in dance or music groups) is an important factor in psychological and physical recovery.

For me, writing has practical and almost mystical properties. When I write, I’m able to untangle and make sense of things both on a conscious and unconscious level. As many artists may attest, the creative experience allows for images, words, ideas to almost be channeled through me. Whether that’s simply relaxing enough for the ideas to come or whether it is a more mystical experience, I don’t know. I just know it’s transformative.

What’s your experience using art to navigate challenges in your life?

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