GUEST POST: Cancer Sucks! By Amy Grantham

Cancer sucks. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to sell you on that idea! It’s certainly not something I would ever wish upon anyone, and yet, one night as I was doing a routine monthly self-exam on myself I found what felt like a frozen pea under my right breast. It felt so out of place that I had it checked out immediately. And thank goodness I did. As it turned out I had breast cancer. I was 31 at the time, and had my first surgery, a lumpectomy, only days after I celebrated my birthday. That lumpectomy was to be followed a month later by a re-excision, and eventually chemo, radiation, and a bone-marrow biopsy. None of which are fun, I can assure you.

I remember the day I was diagnosed. I was sitting in my doctors office as he told me the news. I recall hearing what he was saying, but my mind was a little bit preoccupied, to say the least. I distinctly remember having the thought “Cancer? That sucks! Wait. I should start a blog about this. I’ll call it Boo Cancer, You Suck”, which is exactly what I did! The first thing I did when I got home from that visit was to go online and figure out how in the heck you even make a freaking blog. Initially I set one up for two reasons:

1.) Because I found myself giving almost daily updates about my multitude of doctors visits to well-meaning friends and family who wanted to know how they had gone. The only problem with that was that some of the things which I was going through at the time were hard enough for me to process on my own, let alone to relive phone call after phone call as I tried to explain what was happening to me while still trying to figure it out myself and…

2.) Because I needed an outlet. This was the most important reason for me to start a blog. I wanted a place to document my experience with cancer on a daily basis, and I knew that as an artist I was going to need a place to channel my feelings so that they didn’t get all bottled up inside and explode on me one day!

See, cancer is toxic enough without having the added toxicity of holding in everything that you are experiencing. I could say that same thing about a number of diseases, mental illnesses, or even life in general, really. Art has always been a refuge for me. Ever since I was a child it was where I could turn to try and sift through my feelings about whatever might be happening to me at the time I was creating. Writing, drawing, paining, and photography have long been therapeutic for me in some of my darkest moments in life. With cancer it was no different.

I figured that not everybody who was going to read the blog had had cancer, necessarily, but almost everyone knows somebody who has. I wanted to document what it was like to actually live with the disease. The good (there is good!), the bad, and the totally ugly. I took photos of myself getting chemo, of me giving myself injections, me going bald, me wearing a wig, and me getting radiation. I had appointments pretty much every day for awhile there, and when I did not, I still had something new and totally bizarre that I had to face on any given day. I really looked forward to sitting down to write every day. It came to mean a great deal to me. It was a time for me to do something good for myself by getting out what I was feeling inside. When I was writing I felt that not only was I helping other people to understand my experience a little bit more, I was also helping myself! Soon my blog, which I did indeed name Boo Cancer, You Suck, became a place where I connected with other women who had been diagnosed with various cancers among us, and who were also going through treatment at the same time as me. I began sharing my art again. But more importantly, I began sharing me.

 collage art by Amy

collage art by Amy

I look at that blog as a turning point for my soul. It was there, during one of the hardest, most challenging times of my life that I found my voice at last. I was shocked as the people following my blog went from friends and family, to thousands of strangers who were tuning in each day and giving me great feedback on what I wrote. It was wonderful to have such a network of support from all over the world! And for a cancer blog, no less! It’s not like I was writing about something fun!

I can’t stress enough the importance of having an outlet when you are ill. It’s no joke that art really is therapy. Sometimes people would write to me through the blog and ask me how I was “dealing with everything so well.” How I was dealing with it remains to be seen, but the reason I think I had such a positive attitude throughout my whole experience is because I had somewhere to channel everything that was bubbling up inside of me. I knew that no matter how rough my day was, at some point I would go home, and I would write. And through the act of turning my feelings into words I could help to heal myself a little bit. Day by day, little by little. It was as if writing became my sanctuary from what was a very hard reality to process sometimes.

I am happy to say that last year I reached my five-year “all clear” mark and as of now I’m feeling fine! Still to this day I turn to art to get me through life. In a very strange way I found that writing has once again come up for me as a way to funnel my emotions someplace manageable. This election opened up a wellspring of feelings for me that have been very difficult to understand at times, and so once again I found myself feverishly writing in my journal, and tap-tap-tapping out sentence after sentence on my keyboard until something makes sense to me.

I guess my point is, if you’re feeling down, if you feel overwhelmed by the world around you, or even the world inside of you, take a moment to find a way to get it out. There is nothing more detrimental to your health than to hold onto, or hold inside negative feelings. Those feelings are important to feel because they make us beautiful, well-rounded, human beings; but it only makes things worse to keep them bottled up inside of you. Take some time to see how you feel most comfortable expressing yourself and your feelings! Maybe you write. Maybe you take photographs of the world around you as only you can see it. Maybe you paint your feelings. Maybe you cook them or bake them! Maybe you dance them away, in your undies in your living room or in front of others on a stage. Maybe you grow a little garden and nourish it and yourself at the same time. Maybe you draw them. Maybe you sing them out loud for all the world to enjoy! The point is: create. Create something each day that feeds your soul. Let art be your escape or your new best friend. You might not change the world, but I guarantee you’ll change your life and learn something new in the meantime.

AMY GRANTHAM is an artist and photographer who lives and works in NYC. She is currently working on self-publishing a book of her collage work which she hopes to be able to share with people soon! You can see more from Amy on her Instagram, @woodstockings.