Samantha Hanson
Sharing for the very first time

When i first started sharing my feelings, it was difficult. I was able to talk about what happened pretty easily, but as soon as i started talking about how i felt the waterworks came.  the first real time was during my painting final.  we had all semester to work on painting, just painting whatever came to us, “dont think,” my professor said, ” just paint”   . of course i thought i was wasting my money, and i still do in a way,  but i see where she was coming from.
Our program is very much, work on your problems now so they don’t appear later (or as intense anyway, with future clients who may have the same problem).   throughout the semester my teacher and i realized some things coming from my work.  my paintings showed my anxiety, my feelings of being trapped from an anxious mother and from my medical problems, how i lacked my childhood and wasn’t able to ” play”  — yes this can be seen from artwork–  and varied all the way to  my final piece of how i felt now ( or at that time post cancer).


these paintings arent listed in order,  but they represent the freedom i felt of finally being able to move without pain, moving forward in a new direction, or ” the new me” the new normal, etc.  and having to take time, because although the cancer was labeled as in remission, i still had to worry about bringing my body back up to speed.  that first fall after treatment i went hunting, and boy i have to say i did not realize how new my bones were until i sat in that freezing hunting stand in the middle of a Wisconsin fall.  6 month old bones ( all that new tissue) were not happy with me.  luckily we had some battery and kerosene operated heaters to get me through that weekend , and no i did not get a deer ( but theres always a next time!).
However, when i first brought some of these to class to present that first semester, i started screaming at them, how upset they made me and how aweful it was to talk about each and every one. it was excruciating to talk about how the cancer affected me, the things i realized about my life, what i had missed out on, what i possibly would be missing out on, and how it made me feel in general.
Had i not started painting without thinking, i wouldn’t have come to this conclusion.  i had always had assignments, but never something so open ended that my subconscious was able to speak, and to make me stand still and really consider myself and how i was doing.  yes, i was feeling physcally healthy, but until that final exam presentation, as ironic as it was to be in a mental health profession to help others, i hadn’t taken the time to ask myself how i was emotionally concerning the whole situation.  i went through years of pain, and while i had a great support system in my friends, i didn’t have my family until after.  i have been working through this in my program with the help of my teachers and my counselor, so that is why im finally able to write about it to others.

like putting the pieces in the puzzle, such as my first knitting project post cancer, to my nephew-
 a tetris themed blanket that i created using an  afghan stitch.

Post Cancer and Art Therapy

After my five months of treatment I was considered in remission. My scans were completely clear which meant not only were the tumors gone, but the bones (which were swiss cheese on the initial mri) were regrown. I stumped the surgeons at my oncology center, “as the medicine wasnt supposed to work like that”.

While in march i will be 3 years in remission, NHL is technically still in my system, and could potentially come back at any time.  Im keeping positive though that it will remain hidden till im old, grey and have outlived everyone i know in spite of my medical history.

Six months after my remission declaration, I went back to school and graduated with a BA in studio art minoring in psychology. I have many thanks to give for the help of my art advisor, and teachers for the extra office hours they sat through helping me adjust back to classes after treatment. I also had good friend on campus who spent many nights helping me study, go through articles and edited all my paper rough drafts for the semester.

The chemo brain was one of my longest standing side effects; While the chemo doesnt technically travel into the brain, (as my aunt explained to me–>) it does affect other cells, which go through the lungs (disrupts the oxygen) and travels throughout the body including the brain. Its a very strong haze of confusion, like walking through a grey curtain and while hearing everything, not completely understanding or hearing anything quite right. The confusion was unbearable most days, other days I was in such a daze it didnt bother me, very few days were clear.

That five months flew by like a blur for me. But I can assume it was a lifetime for people around me. about a month or so after my last treatment my fog started to clear, by September I felt like I was clear enough for a full schedule but I realised soon after I was wrong.

I found that I needed to take naps and spend long hours in the library with my friend to keep up with the homework. ( I bought pizza and or dinner at least once a week all semester as payment for all the help my friend gave me between her busy schedule ). My “new normal” was definitly an adjustment. I was used to being busy, and now I had to take it easy, a lot.

In 2011 I started my masters degree in art therapy and mental health counseling.  I have always felt that creating art was healing, mostly stress relieving.  However my specific training in art therapy, has further proven how right it is.

Through these courses and my own personal counseling I have finally been able to process my feelings about my experience with cancer, as opposed to just calling it a name for my pain.

Current day realisation of initial diagnoses
Finding out that my pain was labeled as cancer, came as a relief to me. 
At the time I was angry and scared and frustrated but mostly in severe pain.  I didnt want to go through the process of getting a second opinion if this doctor was sure it was cancer ( and not a mistake like I accused him of his diagnoses being wrong, because sometimes tests are wrong) because I was in so much pain I was ready to give up.  
This doctor assured me the tests were right and although the chemo would not be a Permanent cure for my cancer, that it should help and if all goes right my body should get better ( no pain).   
My motivation for continuing with the chemo was the hope of not being in pain, and if it took the diagnoses of cancer to get me the right medication to take away the pain, I was going to hope like hell it would work because I wanted to live. 
Dealing with it.
I wrote in a journal during this time and did initial sketches about my diagnoses.   I don’t have the sketches now,  but I will post them at a later time with a future post on current processing.  One other way was my arts & crafts,  and my online psych classes toward my undergradute art studio degree
I started and finished knitting/crocheting a blanket from my moms yarn stash during treatment ( and will post a picture later).  Doing my crafting, (yarn, embroidery, etc)  helped keep my hands nimble in between the cramping.  
My painting at that time was mainly for finishing my in completes at school, but it ended up turning really personal and helpful.  I have a series of 3 paintings that I will post that started as a class project about a metaphor and turned into a story of my cancer.

At that time though I wasnt talking about my feelings about my experience  and the painting while powerful to me,  escaped others perceptions. (I had submitted it into my senior art show as a school assignment , not a personal project as my professor had encouraged me to do) it was not accepted into the show, but surprisngly a past sculpture based on anger and stress release was accepted instead.

I realise now how important it is to process something as extreme as having cancer, and how many ways the experience has affected who I am and who im working toward being.

Shortly after diagnoses I found a book series- Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr, it helped me and my parents deal with the situation.  The author has a rare incurable cancer and uses humor.  Other books in the series include, crazy sexy cancer survivor, diet and kitchen. She also had a dvd biography shown on lifetime and an ebook on smoothies.   Www crazysexycancer.com
I was also introduced to imerman angels, a free cancer support group that helps connect patients survivors and caregivers who have similar experiences so they know they arent alone. 
Initial processing
Why would my body constantly make me sick all my life when I stayed away from “bad” things?  I stayed away from smoking, I rarely drank, I never even wore temporary tattoos. But something was always wrong with me, and on top of that we didnt understand this whole cancer thing, and the doctors told us to start immediatly from how far gone I was and to consider thinking the worst.
I had cancer.  I didnt have time to freeze eggs from my one remaining ovary ( another medical problem of mine)  and I was told I would be too sick to continue school.  Three of the most important things at 22 were being taken away from me.
With the chemo I experienced symptoms such as severe muscle cramping, full hair loss, heightened sense of smell, insomnia, chemo brain and heavy weight gain- among others….(The only good part came half way through, the pain went away!) Also at halfway through, came the nausea. 
I watched a lot of tv and movies during my time alone. (had all reruns known by heart!) Due to my lowered immune system I couldnt have visitors which included my two young nephews.  My friends would call and video chat though to check in on me, and on my good days my parents took me to the casinos to do slots! ( with my wigs and face masks .)


Reflecting back

I have a long medical history.  The most recent diagnosis however was November 2009.  I was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma -large b cell in approximately 85% of my skeleton. I went through 5 months of RCHOP, Delievered once every three weeks through a metaport In my chest. 

My initial testing was mri, pet, ct biopsy,  lung xrays, blood tests, stress tests and full body bone density scans. By the time I started treatment I was literally cracking apart! And was found to have a cracked knee cap , and heavy fissures in many other joints and both thighs. 

I started treatment the week before thanksgiving, I had my metaport installed in the morning and started chemo right after. I had a reaction and had to return the following day, it was very stressful coming back because the chemo made me feel so drugged and woosy on top of being scared and angry and frustrated.

I took it out on my mom, who has severe anxiety and I know was only trying to help, but I felt such a loss of control I couldnt stop.  Today we are closer then ever , and I am so thankful that she stood by me during my bad days and my good days.  Her and dad came to every chemo and. Still are there for my post treatment visits as needed.   Thankyou mom and dad!