Transformation: Patients Talk About the (Not So) Little Things That Help

Written By Geremy Capone

Editor’s note: On May 9, ELLICSR hosted For Me With Me: A Forum for People Affected by Cancer. We invited people who’ve been impacted by cancer to come share their experience, learn from others what helped them, and work with us to begin to revolutionize the cancer experience. Late in the morning, we broke into smaller groups to share experiences and build a toolkit to help others. ELLICSR bloggers sat in on each session. Here’s what they experienced.

Image of crafts being made
Participants start building their masterpieces.

The table looked like a scene from a kindergarten classroom. It was covered in random objects – glitter glue, miniature farm animals, toy cars, modeling clay, and feathers. The assortment was very intriguing if a bit puzzling. I sensed that everyone at the table was a little unsure of what they’d signed up for. So began the breakout session “Focus on Yourself and the Little Things that Help”.

Rob Milne, the group facilitator, quickly explained that these random objects were merely building blocks. Participants could use them to create something that symbolized a moment or experience where they did something for themselves that helped them through their cancer journey.

It was clear right away who was comfortable with their creativity: they dove right in. A couple of people were hesitant and even said they were a little “anxious” about what they’d gotten themselves into. But soon they too started gluing, modelling and transforming the random objects into stories.

While creating their masterpieces, everyone talked about how their cancer journey was transformative for them physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. For most of the people at the table, it seemed that their lives were turned on their sides as soon as they received the diagnosis. This led them to reassess their priorities and relationships, and provoked lots of self-exploration. As time passed and the reality of their diagnosis set in, they began to see meaning and importance in specific moments, routines and relationships that would prove to be very helpful for them in their journey.

Image of completed crafts
The finished masterpieces created in the breakout session.

Difficult and traumatic events, like a cancer diagnosis, can take a hold of you and introduce obstacles. Through the stories shared in our group, I learned it can also lead to tremendous growth and transformation. Everyone’s journey is different, their challenges and experiences unique, and discovering those significant and empowering moments had a very profound impact on each person.

While listening to each transformation story, it really hit me – transformation was happening in that hour, right before my eyes. It was quite the experience for me to observe how people were able to sort through the seemingly trivial objects and create beautiful pieces that represented snapshots of their memories and expressions. Along the way, maybe they learned new things about themselves.

As for the people who didn’t feel they could be creative, well they quickly became immersed in the glue and glitter (literally, there was glitter everywhere). Together all the empowering pieces of art tell an incredibly powerful patient experience story.