Emotional Cancer Journey

This is an expression of my journey of illness. On 8th March 1994, I felt a taut tension and spasm from the centre of my chest up my neck. The next day a lump appeared on the left side of my neck. Little did I know that I also had tumours inside my chest and in my armpit. I had been struck down with Hodgkin's disease, which is cancer of the lymph glands. I was thirty years old.

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Nothing I had already been through, or been taught or heard from other people, prepared me for what I was about to go through in the next nine years. It was more difficult and painful than I had ever imagined. But part of that pain and difficulty came out of fear and ignorance. My fear, and then the fear of everybody around me. Illness and death are a part of life, yet they are very much taboo subjects in our society. As an artist it is my natural talent and instinct to express the events and feelings of my life, but my life and work had never felt so challenged.

As I lay in hospital undergoing high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, I started to paint these pictures originally just to decorate the glass window in my hospital door. I was in isolation, as I had no immune system to combat disease. My bone marrow had been destroyed by the toxic chemotherapy drugs, in an attempt to also kill off the cancer cells, which it did eventually. I didn't know then that these images were actually depicting the emotional events of this journey of illness.

In June 1996 these paintings were shown together at the Wigmore Hall, London, forming the exhibition Between Night and Day , my metaphor for my journey of illness. It was then that I realised, particularly from other patients, who identified and found solace in these paintings, how important it is to share this personal journey of illness. My aim is that this work should inspire and support people in similarly frightening situations, and enlighten and guide others to a different and better understanding.

And because I don't know you perhaps it should not be on too personal a level. Not too intimate. But in order for you to truly understand, it has to be personal and intimate. I have to tell you all about my journey of illness. Imagine what it must be like when I talk of nearly dying - and of sometimes wanting to die - because of what I was going through. Illness and death may be familiar to you, But what is it really like when it's your own illness? What is it really like when your life feels as if it's being taken from you?

How Michele Petrone found a way to help us express our feelings about cancer, by Professor Lesley Fallowfield

The Emotional Cancer Journey: a health promotion perspective, by Margaret Felton