Boosting Your Visual Intelligence After a Cancer Diagnosis
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” For some it’s an old adage, but for Amy Herman it’s a way of life. She uses paintings, photographs, sculpture and contemporary art to teach countless experts around the world the “Art of Perception.”
A snippet of her client list includes the FBI; United States Secret Service; U.S. Department of Homeland Security; police departments including those from New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago; legal, financial and leading technology companies; and various medical institutions, specifically working with oncologists.
“If you’re in the people business of any kind, perception is an integral part of what you do,” Herman said in an interview with CURE. “I’m not worried about what happens when they are looking at my slides [during a presentation], but what happens in the operating room? The boardroom? When you’re interrogating a witness? What happens if two of you walk away with a fundamentally different perception of what you just learned? That’s my concern.”
Herman, an art historian, noted that precision, clarity and objectivity are key. “No two people see anything the same way,” she added. By observing art, one can improve their observation and communication skills. Herman revealed it’s best to ask yourself: what is there, and what is not there? Frame questions to elicit the information that you may need, she added.
Her perception changed, she said for the better, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When her mother died of the same disease, both Herman and her sister were tested for the BRCA mutation. Her sister was positive, Herman negative. But then a mammogram revealed that she, indeed, had cancer.
“I said to the doctors, ‘You’ve got be kidding! You have the wrong one. My test was negative.’ And, it really shows you that you have to be prepared for everything,” said Herman.
Fortunately, her breast cancer was caught early. She took action with an aggressive treatment plan including a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and a year of immunotherapy.
“I am grateful for my health,” she said. “You don’t take your health for granted. I will go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for the rest of my life for maintenance. When I am within five to six blocks of it [the center], I am a nicer person. I give up cabs, I hold doors, I hold elevators because I know what people are going through. They’re tired. They’re sick. They’re moving slowly. I’ll never be grateful for my cancer experience, but it has enhanced my life in its own way.”
Throughout her treatment, Herman stayed determined. Although she was drained from the chemotherapy, she continued to teach – getting herself a wig so those attending wouldn’t be distracted – and continue her duties as a mother.
“You can’t fall apart when you have a child,” she said. “I couldn’t crawl under the covers. I had to be there for my son. Sometimes I’d have to come home and nap for three hours just from taking him to school, but you do what you have to do.”
Patients, survivors and caregivers can use these skills, too. It all starts with clear communication.
“If you want to get effective care, sometimes you have to talk about your symptoms,” said Herman. “You need to be able to say what hurts, what’s bothering you and what you fear.”
Herman offered up five tips to apply if someone wants to boost their visual intelligence: First, look up. She said people need to make a conscious effort to use technology only when they need to, not just to fill time.
Next, she said, engage with the world. When you interact with people, you are able to find new sources of creativity and innovation that are often hiding in plain sight.
Third, think about what you’re missing. Ask yourself, “What didn’t I see? How did someone not meet my expectations?” said Herman.
Fourth, listen. Herman said laughing, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. People should be listening twice as much as they are talking.”
Finally, think about every word. Both in writing and speaking, words count. Herman explained that there is no time for “umms, likes and I don’t knows.” This especially rings true in the medical field, she added, where people are listening and relying on what you’re saying every minute.
Amy Herman will be speaking at the 21st Annual International Congress on Hematologic Malignancies®: Focus on Leukemias, Lymphomas and Myeloma” on February 24 in Miami Beach, Florida.