Art and cancer - how art therapy enabled me to live

Hospice patient, David Brook tells his story of how art therapy enabled him to live.

What works for me

“They say that schooldays are the happiest of our lives don’t they?

For me, I added another 31 years as a primary teacher in Suffolk.  I love it. It is a huge part of my life. It is important.

However, then came Christmas 2015 and horrendous pain in my right shoulder and right side.
I took painkillers and forged on; you do, don’t you?

I kept on going, until finally seeing my GP the day before the Easter holidays with stomach pains, only to discover an enormous tumour which had grown.

How could this be? I live a healthy life. I am active; play and coach sport and have no family history of cancer.

Why me?

It had spread to my liver and at 15cm long, weighing 6 lb, it was accelerating alarmingly fast. I had to wait until the end of June for the ten hour operation.

There was no way I could continue working under the weight of this all. It was all too much.

My tumour made the decision for me to leave teaching.

That summer, my home was to be the first battleground in my personal war.

We moved my bed downstairs as being on chemotherapy meant that I couldn’t walk.

At 52, this was a blow.

Those first six months felt like years.

Every day those steroids played havoc with my emotions. This was far harder than the physical side.

At this point, St Elizabeth Hospice got in touch and the next thing I knew, community nurse specialist Denise, made contact with me.

Support doesn’t stop with her regular visits. I have always done lots of art with the children at school as I have indeed with my own, but never for myself. Denise spotted my need for some kind of outlet for self-expression.

She put me in touch with art therapist David, at St Elizabeth Hospice.

During my stay in hospital and the many subsequent visits, I took a sketch pad with me. I just started drawing.

I sometimes drew in the middle of the night, completing 5 or 6 sketches.

I soon discovered that it really is a form of self-expression for me, especially when my emotions are all over the place.

David encourages me to try different materials; I have made pictures using wool – an incredibly therapeutic experience. It is not about producing the perfect picture though, but more about the process and emotions in their production.

Far from being that place where you go to die, St Elizabeth Hospice is where they enable you to live – to express your thoughts, fears, anxieties.

I no longer feel isolated.

It is a place prepared to try anything to see if it will help. They allow you to explore ideas to see what works for you.

It is a place, without which, I would never have found my artistic ‘voice’.

I have found what works for me.”

By David Brook

David is now showing his artwork at the hospice and all pieces are for sale, with proceeds going to the hospice. For more information about art therapy, or to buy a piece of David’s artwork, please call 01473 727776.

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