Art Can Be an ‘Outpouring of What’s Pent Up’ for Cancer Survivors


While wandering around an outdoor art exhibit, I found a sculpture that really spoke to my cancer experience.

This weekend, while visiting Tennessee for my grandson's wedding, we happened upon a unique park filled with architectural sculptures. As we wandered through this huge outdoor exhibit, we were amazed at the craftmanship. There were several sculptures that caught my eye, but one in particular, Jason Kime's "the Least Amount of Space," really spoke to me.

Jason Kime's sculpture, "The Least Amount of Space"

Jason Kime's sculpture, "The Least Amount of Space"

Kime's sculpture was carefully constructed of thousands of iron rods, each welded into place to form a perfect figure. I wondered at the process behind the work, and why the artist had chosen to portray the human form in such a protective position. Had he experienced deep pain in his life or perhaps felt it from someone?

As I walked around the piece experiencing it, I felt myself remembering a time when I hunkered down and huddled beneath the scrutinizing glare of the world.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I found myself withdrawing from the world. Once very self-assured and confident, I was suddenly insecure and fearful. I had no idea what my future held. I wasn't ready to die.

Without friends or family to consult, I retreated into myself. There, I found solace. Though I never dared trust in my own strength for survival, I knew my faith in God would sustain me.

Day after day, as breast cancer seemed to devour my world of normalcy, I curled tighter and tighter into a safe little ball and what I found was as I decreased, my faith increased.

Though I had no idea what my future held, I knew Who held my future.

It took years before I felt safe enough to unfurl, allowing myself to open and bloom again.

Often, when I have no words to speak, I can express feelings with paint, clay or other artistic mediums. Art is such a beautiful expression of our deepest feelings and I've found it to be very therapeutic in my own healing process.

I think that it is important for those affected by cancer to have a creative outlet. Some wield words and others wield brushes, but no matter what the tool is, the result is the same: an outpouring of what's been pent up for too long.

Seeing, touching and experiencing art is powerful. I enjoy both participating in it and being the creator of it.

Kimes' "The Least Amount of Space" is a thought-provoking work. It could have been named "The Experience of Pain," "Devastation," "Shelter in Place," or a hundred other titles, but Mr. Kimes chose the one that spoke to his aesthetic, and I respect that.

Though it's been almost eight years since my diagnosis, I still find myself a work in progress. Some days are easier than others. If I were a sculptor, I'd have probably worked and reworked my piece over and over again through the years. I may have even smashed and destroyed it, giving up only to start over a day or two later. And that's the thing: cancer affects everyone differently. We work through it the best we can. We layer on piece after piece, rebuilding and refashioning our armor, until we begin to feel almost complete again. It's an ongoing process, one we must take both lightheartedly and seriously at the same time, much the way we view art.

Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, says it so well. “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

I hope you'll take time to let art speak to you. You may be amazed at what it will say.

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