Open Studio for Brushes with Cancer Participants Author: Jacqueline Carmody, LCPC, ATR
“You Have Cancer.” This is quite possibly the scariest sentence that a person can ever hear. Everyone has lost family or friends to Cancer, but not many know how to help those through the dark days or how to heal once it’s over. That’s where Twist Out Cancer comes in. This organization uses art as a form of healing, communicating, and storytelling. The program was perfect for a girl like me who was fresh out of graduate school and looking for opportunities to share her artistic skills.
I first became involved with Twist Out Cancer in 2013 after stumbling upon “Brushes with Cancer” in a blog post. Twist gave me the opportunity to do what I love in a meaningful way. So, I followed my intuition and reached out to the founder Jenna Benn Shersher. She couldn’t have been more welcoming and excited to have me jump on board as an artist in the Spring event, Brushes with Cancer.
“Brushes with Cancer” matches artists with those touched by Cancer (inspirations) to create unique pieces of artwork reflective of their journey. Over a period of 6 months, over fifty selected pairs connect and build a relationship that is guided by Twist, with the intention of creating a support system for both the artist and inspiration. The program finishes on a high note with a signature celebratory art exhibition and gala where the artwork is revealed for the first time.
After Jenna and I talked, I was paired with a cancer survivor who automatically (and easily) became my inspiration. Though, I must admit I remember feeling apprehensive before our initial encounter. How would I make a connection with a complete stranger about something so personal? Even as a therapist, this type of interaction was new to me and I knew I had to get it “right.”
Once I met my inspiration, our connection was effortless and comfortable. She and I were close in age, both young women trying to navigate our careers, and we shared many of the same hobbies and interests. While working together she provided me with a new perspective on life and how to overcome my day to day struggles. I learned to appreciate what I did have, such as my health, and not to focus my time and energy on trivial matters. The entire experience was amazing and I knew in my heart it would be something I would continue to be part of for years to come.
I have since participated in 3 events; 2017 will be my 4th year as an artist. I have been so honored to be paired with such brave and amazing individuals each year. Each experience has been unique and words will never be able to express the power of this event – luckily art doesn’t require writing.
But this year, I wanted to do more. I was very curious to see how others were managing their experiences as artists and inspirations. I reached out to Jenna and pitched the idea of hosting an Open studio at Art Therapy Studio Chicago, Ltd. Together we brainstormed how the event would work.
On Thursday, May 4th the idea became a reality. I hosted an Open Studio style Art Therapy group for the participants of the 2017 “Brushes with Cancer.” The goal of this event was to welcome artists and inspirations who have been touched by Cancer to engage in an art therapy group with one another. I wanted to provide a safe space for everyone and offer them guidance in exploring different emotions that develop throughout their experience. What transpired was an evening filled with bonding and camaraderie.
Of course, there was a sense of awkwardness as 10 strangers entered an environment that was unfamiliar to them. They trusted me as their leader as I guided them in using art therapy as a way to connect and express their story with cancer. Both artists and inspirations shared how Cancer has played a significant role in their life and how they learned to cope. Inspirations were able to put themselves in the position of an artist, and create something beautiful that they pulled from their soul.
Here are are a few quotes from the event:
“WOW, I never knew what it was like to make a piece of artwork about something so personal. It allows me to relate to my artist in a new way.”
“After the introductions, I jumped in and found myself making things up as I went along. I found the whole evening relaxing and exhilarating and, in the end, extremely moving…. I didn't expect to have an "emotional" experience”
“I found the whole workshop to be extremely helpful. It helped me start to think through my final BWC art piece. I left with more clarity about BWC and my role as an artist in the program.” -2017 artist & inspiration
I am fortunate as an art therapist to be given the opportunity to engage with such amazing individuals. To some, art-making is just a series of brushstrokes, but to others, its healing and growth.
Thank you to Art Therapy Studio Chicago for allowing me to host the event and grow as an art therapist, and a huge thanks to Twist Out Cancer for all of the support throughout the years!
To learn more about Twist out Cancer, check out their website: TwistOutCancer.org If you or someone you know may be interested in engaging in an Open Studio style group for individuals who have been touched by Cancer, check out ATSC’s new group, Revival, beginning May 21st.