12. Reach Out
Much as my independent self disliked it, I discovered I needed to reach out to others for help to get through my experience.
The support and friendships which developed during my visits to the Dundee Maggie’s Centre came as a result of my reaching out for help to get beyond my experiences; I met other women of similar age who had had cancer. (None had had bowel cancer, but we had many issues in common, simply due to having had cancer and being young- i.e. less than 40 years old!) I made use of the psychological expertise available, learned more about nutrition and cancer, and tried out a variety of opportunities- including art- to process and express my experiences. I had opportunity to meet with others of different ages also, and to realise that we were each and all on a journey and fellow- travellers usually helped…
This piece also is a reminder to those who are near people with cancer that they also can help by reaching out to the person who is going or has gone through a cancer experience. What each person needs is different, but I have met very few people who have had cancer who have not needed other people to support them through the experience.
I made this piece on my first visit to the Bield at Blackruthven. At the time, I had major problems with my joints (in hands and feet, like rheumatoid arthritis) due to my immune system’s response to my cancer. The pain and swelling was a huge factor in my day to day life, so it is not surprising that they were expressed in the artwork I created during that visit. Also, when I look at this piece, it reminds me how different things are now, as the arthritis has largely settled……..
13. Picking up the Pieces
(Ceramic piece suspended- turning- from pine suspension unit 1.6m tall; small pieces of ceramic on polystyrene pizza base on plinth 1m high)
Slowly, and with much support, I began to pick up the pieces of my life; it was not easy, as I felt I was spinning out of control and couldn’t see how my life could possibly fit back together again.
This piece was made in several stages: initially- also on my first visit to the Bield- I made a ceramic flower (to my mind it was a camellia). Having painted it bright colours, I realised it did not satisfy me; it seemed ugly and mis- shapen. I smashed the piece with a hammer, and made a new flower shape, embedding the (coloured) fragments into some new clay. The new piece was then fired- during which time it lost its original colour. As you can see, there are still some pieces to be fitted in place. It also is colourless in comparison to the original. This resonated with my feeling that, although I was alive, my life was colourless and still required piecing together.
The mirrored backing sheet gives a distorted reflection of what is facing it; my cancer experience hugely affected (distorted) my view of life around me. In time the distortion has become less, but I feel my view of life will always be affected by what I have experienced.
As soon as I had made the ceramic piece as it is now, I knew I wanted it to be suspended and turn slowly. I am grateful to George, exhibition co-ordinator, who has made this possible by building the suspension and motor unit.
14. Integrated Being In Harmony
Now, 10 years on, I can see that I am more integrated and in harmony with who and where I am, not just in spite of, but because of, my cancer experience. This piece reminds me to keep persevering, whether the cancer returns (or another “disaster” befalls me); the journey continues….
This piece was also made in stages: initially- on a visit to the Bield at Blackruthven- in August 2002, I produced the two paintings (acrylic) on paper (thin, simple, print paper). I took them home and enjoyed them for several months before I again visited the Bield, in November 2002, and produced the three other parts of the piece, using acrylic on acetate. Again, I took the pieces home and continued to engage with them, having them hanging at my bedroom windows for several months. I took the four larger pieces to a picture framer and asked him to frame them in such a way as the light would filter through each piece. I then made a simple wooden frame (from the wood from an IKEA shoe rack) and hung the pieces from it. My original frame has proved too flimsy for use in this exhibition; I am grateful (yet again) to George, exhibition co-ordinator, for his skill in producing the more robust one seen here.
In this piece, the individual pieces (acrylic on paper or acetate) have their own meaning and value, but their power and meaning are amplified by being arranged together on the frame. This echoes our lives, where our various experiences have meaning and effect individually, but the combination of our life experiences amplifies and enhances our lives as individuals and in community.
15. Creation and Re-creation
This piece is an audiovisual presentation; to view it, click on the link below: (link to be created)
This piece reminds me that throughout my (and every person’s) life, dreams and plans are frequently created then shattered and recreated. This seems overwhelming at first, but in time can be actively experienced and even enjoyed, despite the pain and sadness often felt during the process of letting go of the lost dreams and the challenges of rebuilding new ones.
This piece shows the creation of the previous piece (Integrated Being In Harmony) and illustrates some of the potential variety of arrangements of the individual pieces. Soon after I first built the frame and hung the acrylic pieces from it, I would move the individual pieces such that they were in a different arrangement and relationship to the others, and would appreciate the different appearance and feeling that doing so produced.
Nowadays, I tend to mainly keep the pieces in the arrangement as they are now; I feel this reflects the fact that I am more settled in my life: it has a structure- defined largely by my work- but there is still potential for things to be switched around again, and to be new and challenge me to re-adjust again. This provides me/us hope that I/we need not be stuck, but can continue to make changes, changes that can energise and enhance the life I/we live.
The words you hear are readings from passages in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, creation and re-creation are described. My Christian faith is central to my life; these passages are integral to my understanding of the world, and my life experience to date, and are an integral part of this art piece.
15. Cancer & Me, Cancer & You
Cancer is a fairly common occurrence- most of us are or will be affected by it in some way at some time in our lives- either personally or through a relative or friend being diagnosed with it.
This piece consists of 8 A3 posters about cancer and me. I have photographed each poster and show them below:
This exhibition is about my cancer experience, it tells my story. I have mainly told it through art, as that is what has helped me to process and recover from a very difficult experience. (In general, I found words failed me in describing or enabling me to move on from my experience.) For many people, especially those whom I have met in or through Maggie’s Centres, words, rather than art, have been a means of getting through and beyond their cancer experience. This piece is the only one where I have used words to express, process and explain my experience of being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. Even so, you will see (I hope) that the shape (and colours) of the words affect the impact of the words themselves.
Visitors to the exhibition were invited to express their own feelings about cancer:
Now I invite you to express something of your experience of cancer, either as a person who has or has had cancer, or someone whose friend or family member has or has had cancer. On the tables to the side of this piece, there are pens, pencils and paper- some with the word CANCER down the side, some blank. (Due to the constraints of the setting, it is not practical to provide more messy materials!) After you have used the paper & pens/ pencils to express yourself, please feel free to take your items home, or to leave them on the table for others to view also.
Many people left these pieces by the display boards; they were then added to the display, such that by the end of the exhibition, there were more than 20 responses, some examples of which I have photographed and include below: (still in process)