Art has always been an important part of my life; I just didn’t always realize it. I grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota and in my small community there wasn’t much of an opportunity to experience “Art.” I knew that new crayons and building things in my father’s workshop spoke to my heart. Even without much direction regarding a career, I eventually became an art teacher. Whether it was working with fresh young kindergarten students or college art majors exploring new techniques, I was aware of how they shared their stories through their work and seemed to create with such a passion.
One day, in 1996, my life journey took an unexpected turn when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As this new path unfolded, I became overwhelmed by the process in which I was involved. My cancer was significant enough for a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, just for starters. It hit me as I was returning home from a hospital appointment one day early on in my treatment that I was going to need to do something to help me deal with the fear, anger and all the physical weariness of this whole experience.
I thought back to the creative energy of my art students and I knew that this same act of creating could be just the kind of healing experience that would help me during this difficult time in my life.
I rummaged around my house and found, in my box of treasures, the little bed sheet that had been used on our daughter’s crib many years ago. I assembled all the materials for a batik: wax, a crock pot, dye and tubs for dipping the fabric into the dye. Plans began to come together as I was gathering my supplies. That little crib sheet was already special to me but it took on new meaning through this creative process. Even now, this piece of work continues to be one of my most meaningful treasures. Sharing the experiences of this time with our daughter was such a support for me and through this project I not only had her ongoing encouragement but now there was the physical ‘memory’ to keep as well.
My creative adventures continued over the next months. I made my own journals. I continued working with fabric in a variety of ways. I painted and created collages. You name it, and I did it. I turned to art for myself during a time when my mind and heart were racing off in so many different directions, often in danger of spinning out of control. Creating in all these various ways brought an element of peace to the chaos of cancer.
My treatments finally ended and here I am, still healthy fifteen years later. I know that the doctors who treated me and the treatments themselves are likely the main reason why I am healthy today. But they are not the only reason! Becoming so involved in these creative projects became just as important to my recovery as the chemicals that dripped into my arm or the radiation that zapped those cancer cells. Art became a balancing factor to my hospital visits. It helped me deal with my fear and it taught me how to manage my frustration. Creating quieted my soul during those troubled months. It helped me to be truly in touch with my healing process.
Creating doesn’t make an illness necessarily easier, but I think it provides that inner strength that makes all the necessary steps more manageable and might help to assist the patient in becoming just a bit stronger and less fearful. I don’t know that I would have discovered the power of art had I not been an art educator, so maybe I was being led to ‘art to heal’ long before I knew what would transpire on my life journey. I truly believe that art has saved my life numerous times. I write a great deal, which is a ‘creative process,’ and keeping a journal can be an amazing healing tool. If people understand this process, it might do the same for them as it did for me. Maybe that is why I want to share the power of creative healing with others who may not be as familiar with the arts. I tried many things simply because I was an art educator and was familiar with a variety of techniques, but that is not so important. There are many ways in which we can be creative, and survivors need to be able to choose what feels best for them. Maybe their unique creative experience could be doing something in their community, working with others, sharing a special meal with friends, or visiting a place that seems to fill their soul.
Today I am blessed to be able to share my experiences with others, both those who care for cancer patients as well as patients themselves. I recently published a book entitled God Blessed Them for the Journey, in which I guide the reader (who may be dealing with challenging experiences) by sharing my stories, and adding suggestions for journal writing and exploring creative ideas. I show them how to engage in creative experiences that they can use in conjunction with their faith journey and the challenge they are experiencing. I speak regularly to women’s groups, support groups, and book clubs about the creative process. I have also addressed physicians and other medical staff who work with cancer patients to teach them about this other part of the healing process. Not only am I blessed with good health at this point in my life, but I am also blessed in knowing that others are exploring the creative process as they deal with difficult times in their own lives.
I believe it was Bernie Seigel, MD who wrote “Had I only know the power in a box of crayons….” For me, that box of crayons can still quiet my heart!
By Corrine Lund