When I was diagnosed with melanoma, I only knew 3 people who had it and 2 of them had already died of the disease. My doctor told me not to research on the Internet about my intermediate melanoma, just learn about my specific case through him. I later realized that the Internet was not real optimistic about my long-term survival.
Surgery removed most of the skin from my nose and replaced it with a graft of skin from my neck. After the bandages were removed, my nose was purple and black, and the scars on my face and neck were visible to everyone. There was no hiding from the fact that my life was changed.
During the months of recovery, the darkened skin faded, and a more normal color returned. My body healed but I was still stuck in another part of healing. My mind and thoughts were overwhelmed with fear and sadness as I thought about my future. At the time, I was also finding my way as a single mother, and two months before, I had sent my fourth and last child off to college.
Cancer also forced me to make changes in my life. It was no longer healthy for me to be outside in the sun, and frequent medical check ups and tests were now part of my life. Any routine exam or test that did not show great results required a host of additional tests and biopsies to see if cancer had returned somewhere else in my body. It was exhausting to put my life on “hold” waiting for test results.
Now I was living with a chronic disease. Doctors could not tell me that I was cured, only that there is no visible sign of disease. He said, “Just go live your life.” As I looked at my life before cancer, I realized that my primary mode of living had been working off a “To Do” list both at home and at work. My activities were more like chores, than ones that contributed to happiness. I grieved for a life that was cancer-free and not sure how to escape from the sadness. What I knew as my “normal” life was gone and I needed to find a “new normal.”
Eventually I realized that my goal should be to live a joyful life, try to improve my health and wellbeing, and not worry about whether I was cured. Even those who didn’t have cancer do not have a guarantee about how long their life will be. If my life was shorter than expected, I wanted my children to know me as a person, in addition to being their mom. I wanted to leave a legacy, even if it was to show them how to productively deal with challenges.
My healing journey became an exciting adventure where I found endless healing strategies through expressive arts. While I did not have control over cancer, I did have control over the art I created or my interactions with art and music.
The techniques and ideas I found so valuable in helping me heal, did not exist in one place. I could not stop dreaming about an organization like Healing Through The Arts. Even the name was coming to me over and over. I got ideas everywhere and had to write them down so they would not slip away. The more I learned about the connection between art and health, the more passionate I became in helping others see it as a source for their healing too. Through changes and transitions of life, Healing Through The Arts can provide inspiration for a lifetime of healing.
– Heather Rodale