I am 47 and have secondary breast cancer with the cancer having spread to my liver and bones. This means that the cancer is incurable and the outlook isn’t one stretching far into the future but I’ve already outlived the anticipated expiry date so one never knows. I’m very lucky in that I keep very well and have no pain. The NHS and drugs are brilliant!
I was diagnosed 5 years ago and the shock and horror is hard to express and yet it is sometimes all one wants to talk about. I talk to my partner extensively but often I’ve felt unreasonable anger, confusion and depression and going to a psychotherapist helped immensely. It’s helpful to have a good whine and somehow it’s easier when one is paying to do so!!
I’m very lucky to have no dependants so this instantly removes a large amount of stress and physical strain so my position is perhaps in the minority. This means I have much more time available to simply indulge myself. I am also lucky enough to own a patch of woodland and be fairly stable financially. I am a very fortunate lady!
I’ve always loved art in all its forms but would not describe myself as a gifted artist. I have found that I have become more interested in exploring my feelings through various forms and also simply enjoying the process of creativity with no reference to the cancer, indeed the processes often taking me away from cancer.
I find that writing in the black times and the ecstatic times has been really useful. One can splurge on the page, have a good wallow and weep into the keyboard/journal. One can express things that would otherwise be hurtful or depressing to others and express socially unacceptable feelings in a safe place. I consequently have a folder full of wildly depressing and shocking poetry. A good rant does wonders!
I went to a life drawing class, whilst off work on some hefty chemo, and found this an absorbing pursuit and very relaxing whilst getting me out of the house and requiring little energy physically. I was with other people but we were intent on the drawing so I had company but didn’t have to make conversation. It didn’t matter that I was rubbish. It was an activity that wasn’t about cancer and engaged my attention wholly.
I am a florist by training and a worker with plants by trade. I am only able to work for 3 days a week but I can enjoy planning and making decorations at home and fulfil that side of my creativity without the stress of work. I have been experimenting with environmental art and using things I find in nature to create arrangements. I’ve tried digging, sculpting and wood firing my own clay (mud pies for big people) and have been using natural dyes (hurrah for Google and Youtube) such as eucalyptus and blackberries, to dye wool which I then use in felting. I have even tried making my own string from willow bark! This means simply being surrounded by nature which I find, in itself, therapeutic.
I recently made a short film with a local photographer/videographer. It morphed out of the desire to enter pictures for a book about everyday life with cancer and became a bio pic of my current life backed by audio of my writing. An exploration of narcissism and self-indulgence is probably a more honest description. It was a massively enlightening process. The photographer was interested by the everyday experience of my life and the constant background of cancer. I had to explain my life and as we explored it together I came to realise that my life is as ordinary as everyone else’s and consequently there was no need for me to not do things the same way as everyone else. We filmed me having lunch with friends, working, having coffee with my folks and it’s monumentally dull but to see my life being ordinary and pretty great was a revelation. To watch myself living life like everyone else was so encouraging and meant I now feel that I can press ‘play’ rather than stay on ‘pause’. I can often feel confined by a nervousness to plan ahead and feel redundant and unreliable due to feeling poorly sometimes but actually there is a real contentment and cherishing of people and activities that are simple and ordinary. I don’t need (or want) to bungee jump or run a marathon or don’t have to feel guilty for not doing so.
I love to explore new crafts and not being able to work full time, because of fatigue, has enabled me to try needle felting (leather gloves!), knitting badly, papier mache sculpture and I’m now trying to write some fiction which is new to me. I enjoy needle felting particularly and creating little creatures to hang on Christmas trees is fun.
For me, life with cancer is the same as other people’s. Sometimes one can feel swallowed by it but after a while it simply becomes a part of life. Life is full of challenge and difficulty and cancer clarifies and polarises it all. We all have a shadow but as a cancer patient I am forced to look at mine from time to time and an exploration of the darkness and reality makes the light all the brighter and the time all the sweeter. Hopefully, through art, I can express some of that life for my own benefit and in order to help others understand how it feels to be living with cancer.
Sally Moon is 47 and a quarter. She was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer which had spread to her liver and bones in 2013. Folks say ‘Are you still fighting the good fight?’ and her reply is, ‘I’m staggering the good stagger.’ Sally works 3 days a week at a small plant nursery in Sussex, England. In her spare time she teaches alpacas to sing. This is not true; she mainly sleeps and sometimes makes stuff….