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How art helped me through my cancer treatment

11 Jul 2022

Above: A painting by Amabel created during her treatment.

Alongside the print version of Issue One of Flourish Magazine, The Nourish Issue, we are releasing weekly on the Artlift and Yes to Life websites, such as film, creative writing and blog posts. This week’s digital piece is a blog by Amabel Mortimer on how art helped her through her cancer treatment. Read it below! See the Flourish magazine at: https://yestolife.org.uk/flourish-magazine/

Content warning: The following piece features photos of a woman going through cancer treatment, including emotional imagery and X-ray scans.

How art helped me through my cancer treatment
By Amabel Mortimer 

I have always been a visual, artistic person. Having worked in arts for health for many years, I believe passionately in the enormous benefits engaging in creativity has to offer.

This meant it was an obvious and natural choice for me to create during this challenging period of my life, taking my own advice, if you like. Only this time was different; my art took on a completely new dimension.

Previously I painted objects; small, pretty, still lifes of found vintage items, carefully and delicately laid out on the page. The pieces I created throughout my treatment were large and expressive, a direct response to my emotions and physical symptoms from either cancer or the treatment. I didn’t really care if they were perfect, crafted well, or beautiful to look at – I worked quickly and with little consideration for the materials I used.

I also decided to keep a photo diary throughout my treatment. The photographs served as useful reference points, they kept me grounded and offered evidence that this really did happen. For me, this process of creating images around my illness was a form of transference; it allowed me to externalise and express some of the more difficult feelings I had and continue to experience.

Sometimes the art I produced contained symbolism and may have followed a plan of an emotion I wanted to explore or reflect upon, other times they were a direct portrait of how I saw myself, or felt at that moment.

Either way, I found it hugely helpful and important. Creating these images was extremely emotional and exhausting. However, it was a conscious decision I made to offer myself some psychological relief. Put bluntly, I’m able to get the thoughts and feelings I am carrying around out of my head and onto the canvas. That always helped me to feel positive about how I was managing, whilst acknowledging and recording the difficult path I’m treading.

I hope my art may encourage, or inspire, other people facing cancer and treatments to find a creative outlet. I know my work isn’t always easy to look at, but the reality of facing cancer isn’t easy either.

Creativity has brought me peace in a chaotic time (it also stopped me from obsessively cleaning), helped me to adjust to changes in my appearance and mind-set, and has given me some control back. Those benefits are immeasurable.

Amabel’s photo diary: