Saturday, 4 July 2020

The art of healing explained: BRiC's Collective Voice

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Healing - the art of Kintsugi

In our Sunday discussion, we talked about healing and what that might mean within the context of living with breast cancer. The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer leaves us scarred both physically and emotionally.


Naz explained that, for some of us, the physical damage from breast cancer and its treatments is long lasting, especially for those of us with secondary breast cancer who are living with this incurable form of the disease. She felt that in this context, physical healing might not be apt and so we concentrated on what healing might be in terms of the emotional aftermath of a diagnosis of cancer and how it affects our soul, spirit and motivation. This led to a powerful discussion of what healing might mean for us.



The trauma of a diagnosis of breast cancer was likened to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by a member with close family experience of the condition after military service. So, how best to move forward in the light of such psychological damage? Many of our members believe that one powerful route to healing is acceptance of how we have been changed after diagnosis, both physically and emotionally. There is a strong sense that accepting our “new normal” is not the same as resignation or “giving in”, rather it gives a sense of peace. Being at peace with ourselves gives members a feeling of “being able to breathe” and for others, allows time to grieve for the changes to our previous selves.


Making peace is not just for ourselves. Common anxieties are the harm and the sadness our illness causes to our loved ones, especially for those of us with secondary cancer. Being at peace with ourselves means letting go of the guilt that our illness causes pain to others and, for some, allows those difficult conversations about the reality of death. Making peace acknowledges that we can feel sad and that our family members can feel able to feel sad too - and that it’s OK to feel that way.

It is not always easy to reach acceptance. Feelings of anger and fighting against our reality is common and is exhausting. Some feel that we are not helped by the language of breast cancer - described as “toxic positivity” by one member. Terms likened to fighting a battle and winning a war causes emotional distress, especially for those of us with secondary disease where the battle will never be won. For others, physical symptoms such as pain or fatigue cause a direct affect on emotional wellbeing. Many of us have multiples worries, not just cancer and it can be hard to separate those apart. Suffering multiple traumatic events in quick succession taxes resilience and is especially hard.

There is a strong feeling that healing does not happen in a linear progression but come in fits and starts and in many directions. It can be unravelled when we are taxed by new challenges. The phrase “Two steps forward, one step back “ was used by many. One of our members has a helpful reminder to tell herself of impermanence - that such feelings are not permanent.

An important step to healing and acceptance is to “self care” - making space for grieving, being kind to ourselves, saying “no” to others if needed and using grounding when it all feels too much. A member describes how she looks up at the sky and takes a deep breath. Some of us have found counselling and psychotherapy helpful. Self compassion is important. One member describes how her family upbringing has resulted in her feeling she must always put others first and that impaired her ability to heal herself.

It is felt that making peace with ourselves allowed a deeper connection with those friends and family members who are able to simply be with us. It can be a relief to stop trying to protect others and trying to do this alone.

One of our members introduced us to the Japanese art of Kintsugi, the art of mending broken ceramics by adding gold into the glue repairing the breaks. The analogy that broken parts can be made beautiful hit a chord with our members. We liked the idea of not hiding our scars but embracing them. One member told us that this meant she will be “enjoying my beautiful wonky life”.

Making peace with ourselves. Healing. Sometimes the process can be helped with the support of others who understand.