In this article about the healing powers of art when faced with a life-threatening illness, expressive art therapist Stephanie McLeod-Estevez describes her journey of art-making in response to her cancer diagnosis and treatment. I love her words, “Using the arts is a way of accessing some of the process — to enable you to bring it outside of you and, like a suitcase, unpack what has been inside and ultimately putting it back together again.” She describes creating artwork out of plaster casts of her breasts, in response to her diagnosis, then the chemotherapy and her mastectomy. Now Stephanie helps others as they address their grief, body and appearance changes, and confrontation with mortality and the finiteness of life, among myriad other emotions and fears that inevitably manifest with a cancer diagnosis.
This article was particularly moving for me, as I lived the experience of receiving a cancer diagnosis and its dreadful treatment (still being the best we have). My own collage-making and writing during each chemo session kept me from being in a purely “sick-patient” state. When I called on the Spanish photographer, Cristina Nunez, with whom I had previously taken a workshop, she consulted with me on creating a self-portrait series during this time, as I grappled with my illness, a variety of emotional waves, and my changing appearance. I now work with others, sometimes overwhelmed with the fear, anxiety and grief a life-threatening illness can summon, along with the potential to arrive at a moment of meaning-making, and clarity of life’s purpose. I continually marvel at what a privilege it is to work with people challenged by life’s trauma’s including facing our mortality, and how, in those moments, our humanity sparkles with love and resilience.