Karen's Story                                                                                                                         full version

"There were no words at that time which could come close to describing how I was feeling. Sketching...quieted my mind and soothed my aching heart." 

I was 13 when my mother was diagnosed with what I would later learn was breast cancer.  My mom was very friendly, always smiling.  She was full of energy and did a lot of charity work.  She was lovely.  Over the next two years, her health declined.  Her cancer was like a storm cloud, blocking out the sun.  She continued to smile, beautifully and bravely until the end.  She passed away when I was 15.

It was art that pulled me through.  I started sketching and found that it quieted my mind and soothed my aching heart.  My mother was frequently in the hospital over the course of her illness.  I began drawing some signs and pictures that I hung up in her hospital room.  Then came others that revealed the depth of my sorrow and fears.  There were no words at that time which could come close to describing how I was feeling.  I was able to express my emotions through art.  I tore these darker pictures up into tiny pieces, not wanting anyone else to see them. This, too, was part of my healing journey.

I was always anxious about the possibility of developing breast cancer.  I have two older sisters, and I worried constantly that one of us would get it.

Art remained a central focus in my life.  I went on to become an art therapist.  It felt good to be able to help others with their personal struggles through painting, drawing, sculpting, and collage.

I married and had two beautiful children.  Shortly after my second child was born, I felt a lump.  I kept praying that it was just a clogged milk duct, but it wasn’t going away.  It was cancer.  My sisters had both recently tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene.  We all had mastectomies about a month apart.  It helped us have peace of mind.  It was a tremendously difficult time.  I went from nursing my newborn to suddenly needing chemo and radiation.  Going through our surgeries together gave my sisters and I strength.

Although I had some initial resistance to art after my diagnosis, I soon took up my pencils and paints again.  Expressing myself in this way felt very safe.  I could show as much or as little about what I was going through as I felt comfortable.  Some of the art that I created during my treatment was about what I was directly experiencing.  Other pieces reflected the hope and encouragement that I most wanted and desperately needed at that time.