Portrait of a Pink Journey

By Elaina Ford (UK)

“So I had to have one pink one. Not so much that I’m into the whole ‘everything has to be pink’ thing so, much but my roses are mostly pink!  This is actually something that incorporates my breast cancer “journey” in a few ways. In looking for something big enough to put this piece on, it occurred to me this would be appropriate…

This is a chart from a science cruise I did two years before diagnosis, to the Southern Ocean. We collected data of the ocean down to the sea floor, 5km down (along my left arm on the picture), ending up at South Georgia. The journey ended at the Falkland Islands (by my right shoulder). I was supposed to go on a second cruise at the beginning of this year (can you guess where this is going).

Before going on the next cruise, I again needed to pass a medical. The doctor doing this asked me my family history, and thankfully – although it was not standard – she offered to do a breast exam. Thankfully I said yes. And that is where my journey began. She found a lump. She said not to worry as it’s most likely hormonal change at my age. But I worried. So I went to my GP, who sent me to the hospital… you know the story.

I was diagnosed three weeks after finding the lump (well, not that the surgeon would answer my question “is it cancer” – my sister had to say it out loud). On the following Monday I saw the oncologist, who explained things through and gave me a treatment plan, and I then went to Maggies (the support charity based in various hospitals), with my sister, who founded the Breast Cancer Art Project. I helped her with the IT side to set this up when she was recovering from her surgery, but I can’t say I really understood art therapy, or even art really. But sitting down in Maggies with her, they mentioned the various courses, one of which was art therapy. The penny dropped. It was really like that lightbulb moment that they talk about (sorry this is long winded, I’m getting there, it’s a journey, right?). I had several ideas then and the next few hours/days, some of which I’m still working on, who knows why it’s taking so long. But one of the first ideas I had was I’d like to do something with rose petals. I didn’t know what at that time, I only did this week. 

But it was September, and winter was drawing in (as much as it does these days) so I saved some of the last petals, and dried them. A good distraction in itself. They’re also used for a caffeine free tea (tisane). So skip forward finding another tumour, a DCIS, a false alarm fybrodemna, a genetic typo, six chemo sessions, surgery and reconstruction decisions, three cancelled surgeries due to a global pandemic (who’d have predicted that at the start). I finally had my surgery and am now resting at home and in the garden. 

So I’ve picked up some rose petals, and done some dead-heading (=productive arm stretches!), and made a portrait. The breasts are the old dry withered petals from the beginning of my journey, representing the death and decay of cancer cells. And I’ve always wanted purple hair! Well blue but near enough. I’m still trying to decide if I need/want radiotherapy or not, but it occurred to me yesterday, if I don’t, this could be the “end” of my cancer journey. Hopefully. I know it never really finishes and I’ve got 10 years of hormone therapy, but the stormy seas I hope are behind me. Until I get on the next science cruise and marvel at the power of nature in the Southern Ocean again. Fingers crossed.”

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