Ann

When I first heard the news of the cancer, it seemed to be a very solitary path, so I painted a pathway with my own footsteps, and hurdles that had to be faced in my personal life. As more people knew I felt this enormous hand of friendship come. Then I painted above that, the dove, because an amazing peace suddenly came over me when I was going to have surgery, and I felt it was going to be successful. I painted the sun coming out of the darkness, because I felt there was a future after all. The surgeon had promised he would do all he could. He hoped I would make a recovery so I painted the start of another tree and the pathway coming back, with people on either side, as I wasn't walking that path to recovery alone. There were people on both sides and I was walking into sunlight. I saw the walk back to recovery, with tremendous support from everybody that I made contact with, as hope.

The hardest thing about the cancer was wondering if I'd be able to carry on in the job that I loved. I needed to work full time to support my two children and keep my home together. It was my prime wish to stay alive long enough to see my son get through school. My father had also been diagnosed with cancer and I wanted to stay alive to look after him. I was an only child and my parents had been incredibly happy and good people, so supportive to me and the children throughout the break up of my marriage. I was able to care for him to the end and my mother still lives with me ten years on. I saw my son successfully get through College and he's now a freelance photojournalist. My daughter married and I now have a grandchild. I feel I have everything and more, including friends. I feel very blessed that I'm still here. In a small way I've been able to help others who are suffering similarly as a living proof that there is a life after cancer, and here I am almost 14 years on.

I resumed my job, I work quite hard, I have my garden and I help with a breast cancer support group. I am very active and I find this is very encouraging to people who feel they'll never be the same again after cancer. I think you learn a lot about human nature: compassion, tolerance, gratitude - you see life differently. I remember the first spring after my operation in the New Year. Outside my bedroom window was a huge cherry tree and I can remember every day watching every shoot and every flower as it opened. This is amazing, I thought; the leaves and the colours have never been so vibrant. Of course they probably had but you never really notice them until your life is nearly taken away from you and then you're aware of everything. It's really marvellous, and it's strange that you have to be on the point of losing your life before you actually appreciate it. It totally changes your attitude, and nothing is ever taken for granted again. That's how I feel, and I am sure all of us, with the cancer experience, do. My philosophy is don't look at what you haven't got, don't look at what you've lost but look at what you still have.

I wrote down all the good things about what had happened to me and are still happening, and all the bad things, and the good, far and away, outweighed the bad. I went somewhere recently where somebody broke a teacup. It was a special cup and they went bananas. I just suddenly smiled and said, 'I know you may not believe me but material things don't mean one iota. I didn't used to be like this, I used to be so particular with precious things. I'd say to the children 'Careful!' I was a lifetime junk shop collector. Now I realise we come into this world with absolutely nothing and we go the same way. That's what this illness taught me - material things are totally unimportant. Yes we've got to have chairs, tables - things like that. I still love beautiful things, but at the end of the day we just have each other. Friendships are much more important. I do find it slightly irritating when people go on about nothing and it's hard not to say 'if only you knew what problems people have' but one has to bite one's tongue. Yes it does teach you so much about yourself. I do hide my feelings sometimes, but I don't find it difficult to talk about my experiences. But there are many people who do find it difficult and I think the art is excellent because so many people are locked within themselves, and that prohibits recovery. I think you need to be free. Art is the freedom of expression that can be the outlet of pent-up emotion. It also lets some people who didn't know that they could paint realise that here's a hobby that they can take up. I hope that it will be universally accepted, with hospitals and cancer groups everywhere, this is a real aid to recovery.