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Art Therapy: Putting Back the Pieces After Breast Cancer


Art can help us understand our deepest feelings, helping us cope and reflecting the complexity of life after cancer.

Art can help us understand our deepest feelings. Even if you think of yourself as untalented in art, you should try to find an outlet you like to see the results.

The first time I drew myself after cancer was at a retreat about 10 years after my diagnosis.

The circle we were given was about as big around as a dinner plate, and we were told to draw ourselves. I began with a pink ribbon that grew into flowers and a cross. Each element grew from the original in a rainbow of the brightest ones in the box. Slowly the circle filled with color and swirl. As usual, my circle was a mass of color, every inch filled with something — just like my life.

I liked myself and the energy the circle radiated. I realized the complexity of the images— reflecting the complexity of my life after cancer.

In every art exercise I filled the page with color and activity — and I saw life in all its intricate patterns come to light.

We didn’t analyze our drawings. We just did them and saw in them where we were.

Take a piece of white paper and put a dinner plate upside down on it. Draw a circle around it and then get some colored chalk or pencils and draw whatever image you want to reflect upon: your life, your cancer, your family. Don’t thing about it and don’t try to make art. Just let your inner self speak to you and see what comes out.

I ended up doing another piece of artwork a few years ago. This one used the pieces of a pot, glue and lots of colorful things.

It started when I used an analogy in the talk I did on how my breast cancer changed me. I compared the cancer experience as feeling like a pot that had been broken and put back together again.

Then on one of my frequent trips to Taos, New Mexico, I happened upon a gallery where I knew one of the salespeople. As we chatted I became aware of all the beautiful pots around me, many of them costing hundreds of dollars from Native American artists in the surrounding Pueblos.

I told my friend that I used the image of a shattered pot that I put back together and her face lit up.

It seems she had a pot that had been broken accidentally in the shop. The pieces were rather large, she said, but it might be the perfect thing to put back together. She said she would see if I could take the pieces with me.

It took a few weeks and the insurance company releasing the pot, but then I was back at home in Dallas looking at about 15 pieces of a pot called “Tears.” It had one eye carved in it and from that eye, a single tear fell.

It was my pot.

Over the next few weeks, I glued it back together using all kinds of things in the cracks to represent how I had changed as I put myself back together after breast cancer.

When I was finished, I had a masterpiece of color, memories and significant representations of my life. In one crack was a pink rhinestone pin. In another, a pair of small earrings my mother had given me made out of silver and turquoise. In another, gold glitter and in another, pearls to represent the wisdom I had been given by the experience. But my favorite spot was probably the place where the pot hit the floor when it was initially broken. There was no piece for that spot, probably because the clay was in tiny pieces that could not be picked up.

I felt like it represented my lost breast. Gone for good.

So, I filled it with bright beads. Where there was nothing, I chose to put something that represented color and the bright pieces of my soul.

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