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Journalling: how it helped



After going for a routine mammogram at the age of 64, I received a recall letter and immediately entered the world of scans and biopsies, followed by the dreaded words no-one wants to hear, ‘You have breast cancer and will need a mastectomy.’ My diagnosis came on September 8, 2022, the same day the Queen died – a day never to be forgotten. Within two years I’d had a double mastectomy without reconstruction. I now feel like a flat chested ten-year-old who just happens to have a senior citizen bus pass!

Where my love of crafting began

I grew up in a very active noisy household with three older brothers. Next door lived a retired nurse and I used to pop in and see her for some peace and quiet! She taught me embroidery and tapestry – things I’ve enjoyed all my life. Her gift of time spent with a young girl was far more valuable than any monetary gift – passing on a lifetime passion for creativity. Although I’ve still not yet come to terms with knitting!

COLLAGE 1After my operations I was looking forward to having the time to do some art but was very disappointed to find that I didn’t have any enthusiasm for it. I just needed to rest. Eventually, however, I started trying some mixed media, using glue, paper, and paint in a journal or on canvas. I enjoyed it because there are no set rules and mistakes can be covered over. We probably all did it as a child and then stopped because we grew up. My ‘work’ was influenced by my diagnosis, fears, and scars. It felt so good to be able to visualise these onto solid canvas. And my confidence definitely improved when someone asked if they could buy one of my mixed media pieces!

My journals tend to be more personal. I would write my thoughts down and then cover them with paper and paint – so therapeutic. I’ve even written poetry! They give me comfort to look back on and to see how far I’ve come both physically and emotionally.

Painting birds

I then decided to learn watercolour and so follow an artist on Facebook. She posts a short video for inspiration and this month it’s a different bird a day. I’ve been doing this for about a year and just painting every day helps me so much. It’s a good habit to have, rather than a bad one. They may not be masterpieces but the routine of painting for just half an hour a day helps me to switch my brain off and concentrate on the observation of a bird such as a Blue Footed Booby!

I am fortunate in that I live on my own so I can leave my dining room table in a complete mess without annoying anyone else. If you do any kind of hobby it needs to be accessible, otherwise it will end up at the back of a cupboard (like my bread maker!) and never see the light of day. Even just a few minutes a day really helps me. Friends often don’t understand how I find time, but they seem to find time to watch the soap operas on television. Reading and being creative is sometimes seen as wasting time – it’s NOT.

MARGARET QUOTE 1My other passion in life is dogs. I was a puppy walker for thirteen years for guide dogs and also worked in the kennels. For the past fifteen years I have been self-employed as a home dog boarder where they stay at my house for their holidays instead of going into kennels.MARGARET AND DOGS

Tragedy struck twice

Obviously, any cancer diagnosis is devastating and life changing. Although I was fortunate that I didn’t need to have chemotherapy, life certainly wasn’t easy afterwards. I came out of hospital with Covid and coughed violently for the next few months – not ideal with chest scars – which sapped all my energy. And three months after my operation my brother and then my young dog both collapsed and died suddenly. Life seemed incredibly unfair, very stressful, and I had never felt so alone. I took long walks on my own and with friends. People tend to open up on a walk, rather than within four walls, and we often discussed cancer, death, and, of course, the weather! Fresh air isn’t a cure, but a daily walk helps my mental and physical health – even in the constant rain. I know it’s a cliché, but it is literally one day at a time. I still break down and sob my heart out occasionally, but my painting and walks don’t half help. We all need some ‘me’ time.

Margaret is 66 and lives in Bolton, Lancs. She is happily single but has several nephews & nieces & great nephews & a great niece. She shares her life with dogs and loves attempting any kind of art and crafts. Her breast cancer diagnosis was in September 2022.

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Philip Booth (not verified)

I found Journalling such an important way to help understand my diagnosis....Love the art in this post.......wondered if Margaret anyone reading this might like to help with the Flourish magazine - 4th issue is just out now - by and for the cancer community - some 2000 copies going out free in Bristol/Glos area plus online version going Worldwide. Art is such a great way to reach people - our next issue will be around the body - details in the latest magazine so if anyone reading this is interested do please take a look: https://artlift.org/artlift-programmes/flourish/flourish-magazine/