After I completed chemotherapy and radiation, I was offered an interesting opportunity to use art to help in the healing process. Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin had teamed up with the Milwaukee Art Museum to work with current and former cancer patients. As part of the project, participants had masks made of their heads, similar to the mesh masks brain cancer patients have made so their heads can be kept steady during radiation therapy.

Each week for three to four weeks, we came to the hospital to express our emotions about our cancer journey through the creation and decoration of our own masks. A resident artist from the museum was on hand to offer artistic tips and to help when we needed a guiding hand. When we completed the artwork, we were asked to write something that would hang side-by-side with our mask on the walls of the Art Museum.

Despite being a somewhat reluctant artist and poet, I found great satisfaction in participating in this project. The inside of my mask was filled with all the inner thoughts and emotions circulating throughout my head for the duration of my journey. The words helped me express how I felt in a way that provided a sort of catharsis.

All in all, this project was a wonderful healing experience.

Here’s what I wrote to go with my mask:

Unmasking Cancer
Churning emotions,
Spinning, spinning, always spinning.
Shock, fear, utter loneliness.
Patches of extreme darkness,
Punctuated by brief moments of graying hues and patchy sunlight.
Physical pain is dealt with, even welcomed,
It has a purpose – it is fighting the enemy.
Mental anguish is harder to suppress.
What I would give for one uninterrupted hour of cancer-free thoughts.
My family and friends rally at my side.
Their love is pervasive; their touch comforting.
But, even they cannot penetrate the loneliness,
Or the simple understanding that this is my battle, my battle alone.

A spiritual reawakening,
A sense that I am not really alone.
I don't have to fight this battle by myself.

I lift my concerns upward,
And He holds my hand and comforts me.
Time and time again.
As many times as I ask.
Then, I break through the darkness,
And emerge on the other side, cancer-free.
I am struck by the intriguing thought,
That being cancer-free will be like living a lifetime of springs.
The beginning of life anew.
Dazzling sunlight, comforting warmth, a sense of giddy joy,
That can't be suppressed.
I emerge reborn and embrace life.

Share Your Thoughts

Art therapy can be a great way to explore, express and share your cancer experience. Have you tried it? Share your comments below.

About the Author

Sue Northey is a lifelong Milwaukeean who ventured a whopping 50 miles away to attend the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees. She loves her home state of Wisconsin, but also loves traveling and learning about different cultures. Sue has spent over 25 years in the field of marketing, working on the client, agency and academic sides of branding and communications. Recently, she leveraged all her knowledge to create Branding Breakthroughs, LLC, a marketing consulting company. Sue was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1999 and underwent both chemotherapy and radiation. Nine years later, she underwent a pericardiectomy to remove the lining of her heart due to damage caused during treatment. If you haven't figured this out yet, Sue embraces every aspect of life ... even more so since having cancer.

Add new comment

Kimberly Yoghourtjian
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Hi Sue, I love your story. I have seen art therapy help cancer patients as they travel their journey. As you know, my husband, Jim was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2012. I saw how the art projects that he did during his months stay as an inpatient brightened his day. We thank Frroedtert for bringing art therapy to people suffering from life threatening illnesses.