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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Drawn to Healing: Art Therapy

By Dr. Carole Weaver

In my early 60's, with a lifetime of adventure in travel, single parenting and fund-raising--and a few side trips into musical comedy, I was ready for a new exciting chapter. My kids grown and gone to Hollywood, I aimed at Broadway, or at least auditions for bit parts (the older woman—an extra decked out in colorful rags in Sweeny Todd). Wham! Fate however dealt me two surprises: a new boyfriend-- an art appraiser--and... breast cancer.

Complications ensued (read about it in my memoir, SIDE EFFECTS: The Art of Surviving Cancer) especially with the cancer, but, hey, a Cinderella romance ensued even for this aging feminist.

One problem:

It takes a village, as we all know, to help a cancer patient through treatment. But my village looked more like a ghost town. Family was 3000 miles away. Boyfriend suffered sick people as energy drains. Shrink only interested in "authenticity," not pain. And girlfriends, while valiant, soon became exhausted with the regimen of driving, shopping, calling and, well, caring.

A few pieces of art stepped into the breach.

The “side effect” I discovered as an antidote to an e-coli infection in the operating room, a nasty reaction to chemo, and multiple surgeries, was how a handful of beautiful objects distracted, comforted, delighted, and ultimately gave me a deep healing perspective which got me through my ordeal.

I was no art expert, no art major; didn’t even especially like museums for more than 45 minute visits.

I just let my own frame of mind (pun intended) move me toward a statue, a painting, a piece of music, even an object artistically sewn.

Most of the individual pieces had something to do with the stage of my treatment. For example, when I was going through chemo, my appetite was horrible. I could barely get anything down. I dreamed of eating clouds. Then I discovered this large Turkish plate-- a reproduction of a fifteenth century ceremonial ceramic. It was gorgeous with the special calligraphy dedicated to the Sultan and his distinctive Tughrah, his signature in the middle.


This plate was never meant to be laden with food. It was strictly an object of magnificent craft to be looked at and appreciated. I loved that plate during those days when the Nausea Imp waited next to my cheek. It was the opposite to what I saw at work when people would bring in gigantic sandwiches for lunch; or at the Chinese buffet, the food dangling over the over-burdened plates.

The Turkish plate told me my aversion to food was rewarded with grace, with the masterly strokes of the anonymous hands that filled the background of the Tughrah like a movie set or a musical accompaniment I could not hear.

Basically, this is the way it worked: If I saw something in my boyfriend’s house that I liked and came back to it to stare, hold it in my hand, and wonder at its creation, I stayed with it for a while. It made me happy.

Eventually, I would understand that it did more than that to my physiology.

I learned that art can heal.

The Tughra of Mehmed the Second
The Tughra of Mehmed the Second, 1432-1481 Neil MacGregor calls the Tughra “a badge of state, a stamp of authority, and a work of the highest art. ” From A History of the World in 100 Objects, p. 458 (Viking, 2011).

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