Fear, pain, stress, anxiety (and many other negative emotions and feelings) are part of our human existence. When was the last time you felt any of them?
When you do, how do you respond to, deal with, and/or get through the event, situation, or experience that triggered those feelings and emotions?
During April, we’ll explore ways that Firefly participants have used their hobbies to help heal from the emotional and physical trauma of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Hobbies – a somewhat antiquated word in the fast-paced, digital world we live in – are defined by Merriam-Webster as “pursuits outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” Photography, hiking, reading, bird-watching, gardening, biking, painting, writing, knitting, cooking, volunteering. The list is endless. Here are the stories of how creating art helped three breast cancer survivors heal.
“The psychological and emotional pain (of my breast cancer diagnosis) turned my focus inward.”
For Candace, this inward focus after her diagnosis resulted in a burning desire “to create.” She began making sculptures to help process the reality of cancer being part of her identity. “Sculpting—working with my hands to create something of meaning to me – became a strategy that allowed me to get my mind off of my breast cancer and away from the endless loop of negative thoughts and what-if scenarios.”
By using the creation of sculpture as a form of expression, more and more ideas began coming to Candace in the middle of the night. “Once I started the first work, the creative process fully enveloped my mind and allowed me to reach inside myself and pull out the negativity a cancer diagnosis generates.”
Art has always been of interest to Candace – she was a tour guide at the Walker Art Center and began going to art museums as a young child – but her diagnosis became the starting point for the creation her own art. “I love that there are no right or wrong rules for art,” Candace shares, “I enjoy putting found objects together in novel ways to communicate a theme. Although the finished work may appear to be very simple, multiple layers of depth and meaning are present.”
For others who may want to explore art as a form of healing, Candace suggests keeping a notebook of ideas – connections you observe, specific materials that appeal to you – and then playing with those thoughts in your mind to discover the essence of the idea you want to communicate. Her words of wisdom: “Don’t be afraid if your ideas only make sense to you!”
Candace continues to sculpt, donning her “art overalls” and carving out 2-hour blocks of time to immerse herself in the creative process. She also continues to visit art museums as a way to enjoy, be inspired by, and connect with other forms and expressions of art as part of her healing process.
“I always had art as an outlet. But it was important to rediscover it as a form of healing.”
Art was always a part of Ann’s life – she is a professional painter – but after her diagnosis, “I was surrounded by caring people that offered advice and feedback. At times their care and concern became another thought that I had to process. I found that in getting quiet and journaling I was able to express my thoughts and feelings – it was a way to get in touch with how I felt.”
She would then turn these buried thoughts and feelings she was trying to work through into paintings, which were different from her professional work (which came from a memory or an experience). “My art became more abstract, but within each image was a place I needed to talk to myself about,” discloses Ann.
Ann finds that art, like Firefly Sisterhood, is a way to connect: in the process of creating art, connecting to oneself; in the process of viewing other artists’ work, connecting with feelings that would otherwise be difficult to express for oneself.
“There is such fear around art,” Ann expresses with a bit of sadness. “So many people say they don’t have the skill set for art, but I think we all do.” She continues, “We all want to edit what we do—to make it perfect—but we need to learn to ‘let go’ and trust the process. In ‘letting go,’ your artwork becomes a better representation of you and your true feelings.” Ann recommends looking at something that speaks to you – maybe in an art book or at a museum – and noticing what is attractive. Is it a color, a style, or a subject? Then using that as a way to begin your own “conversation” through art. “Some days, I start my art with one issue I am having, but end up somewhere else by what I learn about myself in that expression,” Ann divulges.
“Deeper connection to oneself can nurture your spirit so that you are being the best version of yourself today,” concludes Ann. And who doesn’t want that?
Ali DeCamillas, Registered Art Therapist & Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
“The beauty of art (in healing) is that it is not about creating something pretty.”
Ali DeCamillas, Program Director at Gilda’s Club Twin Cities, didn’t have words. Words to accompany the big feelings that came after her dad died. Words to express her enormous grief and loss when she was such a little girl. As a teenager, an art teacher introduced her to art as a way to heal, as a means of expression, and for self-understanding. Now, as a Registered Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, she helps others work through their own trauma caused by cancer at Gilda’s Club Twin Cities.
“Cancer takes away so much,” states Ali. “What creativity offers is an opportunity to grow and learn and fully engage in a creative process that is life affirming.” Some people are innately creative, and for those people, she recommends “shifting the focus from creating pretty things to creating as a form of expression: worrying less about the product and focusing more on the process.”
“If, ‘But I can’t even draw a stick figure,’ is how you feel about art,” Ali laughs, “the beauty of art is that it is not about creating something pretty. It’s about creating art as a form of introspection.” Ali reminds us that art can include photography, sculpture, collage, or digital media, and that it could simply be cutting out words from magazines or newspapers and putting them onto halves of a paper: one side, your identity before cancer, the other side, your identity after cancer.
Ali continues, “Unfortunately the cancer experience can be so overwhelming or the trauma is so intense that it is too big to deal with alone—such significant anxiety or depression may require an art therapist who can then help unpack what it is that you created through art in a really safe way—like peeling back the layers of an onion, peeling back the layers of feeling and emotion that are in the art.”
At Gilda’s Club, art therapy groups are offered for support—with an art therapist—and for healthy lifestyle—with volunteers that are sharing life affirming art skills. More information can be found at: www.gildasclubtwincities.org.
Are you ready to start a new hobby?
Firefly is incredibly grateful to Ann and Candace for sharing their art with us, and for Ali in sharing her art therapy expertise via Gilda’s Club. Join us on the Healing Through Hobbies journey as we continue our exploration next week with gardening.
Other Healing Through Hobbies Blogs in this series:
- Healing Through Hobbies: Volunteering
- Healing Through Hobbies: Gardening
- Podcast: Healing Through Yoga
- Healing Through Hobbies: Writing
- Healing Through Hobbies Blog Resources and Reflection
Written by Amy Tix, breast cancer survivor and Firefly staffer who considers herself creative, but not artistic. After interviewing these 3 amazing women, she is convinced that art may become a hobby to try, especially after a recent visit to the Louvre, Orsay, and Atelier des Lumieres Museums in Paris!