Suzanne McGillivray's creative unfolding

Awakens to creativity, awakens to the possibilities of life

The twists of fate bring us closer to awakening the possibilities of life – if we let them!

In my case there had been many twists and turns throughout life, bringing lots of possibilities, but it was not until I was stopped, my extremely active life halted, that new and exciting possibilities began to seep through into my conscious mind.

19 days in a hospital room would make the best of us stop!

Day after day, night after night, the same four walls, the same beeping monitors, the bags of saline the only supply of daily sustenance for 2 weeks … More time on my hands than I had had for years, no one else to worry about but me.

An octopus tumour the size of a football had wrapped itself around organs, tubes, pipes and almost anything that existed within my abdomen. The wily white headed surgeon had cut with precision and determination, not a speck remained … the little sucker was not going to win. But it left me feeling like I had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson.

Battered, bruised, vulnerable, exposed but still enthusiastic to get back in the ring, back to the constant activity that ruled my life. But then a simple piece of toast became my biggest opponent, caught within a twist in one of those pipes, or was it a twist of fate?

I was forced to remain, forced to face my (former) world of activity and there, in the semi silence and semi darkness of that sterile room, I had to face a new world of stillness and deepening vulnerability.

Death lingering round the corner – you have to go for what you want, because you never know what tomorrow may bring.

Today was my day, my moment of possibilities.

With external scars beginning to heal, the railroad track of a hundred or so staples were removed, but the internal surgery of my psyche had just begun.

I could no longer do what I had once done, but what was it that would emerge in its place?

It was time to listen, to truly listen to myself, to that small voice within, the one that speaks and I often ignore, the one that shows itself in dreams, or in the whisper of a momentary thrill. It was time to take off the ear muffs that had so dutifully protected me from the cold, a barrier from unwanted blustery winds of change.

Life had presented itself with new opportunities!

I needed to create the life I had always wanted to live but had been afraid of knowing exactly what that was. Not that I had not been active in creating my life; I had, but what was it that I was not living, the things I had denied, buried, or told myself I could not do, or feared stepping into, the self without the mask?

There in the long hours of endless nights the dawning of creativity emerged. I wanted to create, to express myself; to write, to paint, to draw, to sing and to find the freedom within to be able to do so.

Some flame had been ignited; my left brain had been asleep when under the anaesthetic. My right brain pounced on the opportunity, donned its hiking boots and set to work before the logical left awoke. Visions awoken, plans created, hope kindled for freedoms long awaited. The creative heart had been set free and would not be encased again. My extremely logical brain would struggle with this call to freedom, but I knew it had to be.

Fill the vessel with something else – not more activity.

I was determined to allow the time for healing, for vulnerability, for creative expression … who knows what would emerge?

Five months’ healing, of limited activity, created a perfect breeding ground for my new found creative expression; writing classes, painting, drawing, poetry, singing lessons.

All these new friends filled my life and filled my heart. I had decided to play, to just let myself explore possibilities, no expectations, no limits.

I revelled in it, but did not let myself be truly free. I was still listening to the logical left brain, the critic, the one who told me I was not an artist, that I was fooling myself. I was not an artist’s boot strap. No poet, no writer, just some amateur, some babe dabbling, playing with paints …

Then on New Year’s Eve I got the diagnosis of a metastasised tumour. “Happy New Year to you!!”

With that news, I painted my heart out, I finally let go!

I painted for no one, no critic, no voices, no nothing, just for me. I just said f@** it and painted my heart out.

Firstly a canvas of reds, then one of blues, then of greens, back to reds. My style had become abstract, without form, just the fullness of colour on canvas, texture and movement, but mostly of light. Colour and light and movement – I had finally found me in expression. I was finally free in art.

16 months after the ‘octopus’ was banished from its hiding place, it was back, it had laid an egg and the egg was malignant.

It was not going to be so easy to exterminate the octopus from my body this time. It was a tricky one.

A third surgery, another bowel obstruction, 3 more weeks in a hospital room, 3 more weeks of a tube up my nose, 3 more weeks of the beeping monitor, 3 more weeks of being fed by a bag, 3 more weeks to stop and review.

What had I missed, why had it come back, what had I not let go of, what still needed to be embraced?

I truly had to own the artist within me. I was the creator of my own life, I held the brush in my hand, I had the pallet of colours, I also had the design in my head – now it was time to paint true to form, to express who I truly was and to express what was truly mine to express.

Chemotherapy stripped away any last resistances.

Suzanne's Chemotherapy Journal

Suzanne’s Chemotherapy Journal

I found this on the Internet and it sums up the experience of chemo so well―

“During chemo, you’re more tired than you’ve ever been. It’s like a cloud passing over the sun, and suddenly you’re out. You don’t know how you’ll answer the door when your groceries are delivered. But you also find that you’re stronger than you’ve ever been. You’re clear. Your mortality is at optimal distance, not up so close that it obscures everything else, but close enough to give you depth perception. Previously, it has taken you weeks, months, or years to discover the meaning of an experience. Now it’s instantaneous.” – Melissa Banks

Not being one to let things get me down, cancer and chemo treatment were not going to get the better of me either.

When I was not in hospital having treatment (oh that Campari red fluid pumping through collapsed veins, how can you forget that) I was at my favourite beach armed with my trusty notebook or sketchpad, summer, winter, spring, autumn. I swam with whatever energy I could muster, at times all I could manage was to let the water support while I floated on a tide to nowhere.

Endless beach days, the chill of the winter water, the solitude, the quiet … awesome. For the first time in my life I could say I found the peacefulness of not doing, a peacefulness of just being. It was as if a new day had dawned, new life had been breathed into me. Life that was balanced, life that was intrinsically creative, life that was content, life that was full …

And all the while still managing my treatment.

My journey with cancer has been a great gift, not because of the cancer but for the package it left me: the gift of creativity, the joy of an awakened heart.

©2010 Suzanne McGillivray
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