Thursday, 17 March 2016

I am now an Artist with Cancer ~ Amanda Hayler

Art has become a particularly important part of my life since my diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in January 2012. Indeed, I really believe it has kept me sane during the worst days of my illness so far. I love this quote by Thomas Merton "Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time". It really sums up what art does for me.

When I was diagnosed the first time with breast cancer in 2003, I was 38 years old, working in the education sector and was able to fit work around my treatment, as well as work at home. Work kept me focused and helped distract me from the misery of my situation. However, even after treatment had ended, I never really felt safe again. I kept myself busy and the fear diminished as time went on, but it still lurked in the background. 

Roll on nine years, and the cancer had not only come back, but it had spread to my lungs. I was devastated but not surprised. I knew what it meant. I was on borrowed time and I had to make some large adjustments to my life. One of these was to abandon the plan to become a professional photographer (at one point I almost threw all my camera gear in the bin!). The first year of living of incurable cancer was difficult. Not only was I on treatment which affected me physically, but I also struggled with my feelings of inadequacy, frustration, anger and guilt. I tried doing photography "just for me" by doing regular trips out and giving myself projects to do, but it increasingly got too much physically.

I had a huge hole in my life I needed to fill. I needed something
that would give me some self-worth and allow me to express myself, and not cause too much exertion on my health. It was then I turned to art. I'd always loved doing art, but it was always secondary to other things in my life. Now I had the chance to immerse myself in it and I did. I have no formal training in art (apart from art at school, and then I never completed the A level course). I had been keeping a diary of my side effects from the drugs I was on, but was wanting something that could visually address my emotions. 

I started doing art journaling, which enabled me to create pages of words, colours, and shapes from layers and layers of collage, paint and pen; the focus very much being on the personal and the process and not the end result. I watched YouTube videos, I bought books, I took online courses, and crucially, I was doing art every day. I began to doodle in the hospital waiting room. I started making little collages on canvases and cards that I gave to family and friends. I started to experiment with watercolour and pen. I started doing art abandonments (creating bits of art that are left in public places for people to find and keep). I even started to sell pieces. My dining room became my art room. And I had started to fill that gaping hole that cancer had ripped into my life. Doing art makes absolutely no difference to my prognosis...I will certainly die from my cancer...but doing art certainly makes my remaining life much more fulfilling.

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