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Art Meets Healing Among Survivors

A painted bust sculpture from the art healing event in Christiansted. (Submitted photo)

At Cane Roots Art Gallery, Diane Hampton, VI Breast Cancer Project Founder and Art Therapy Coordinator, organized a bust sculpture event at the Cane Roots Art Gallery in downtown Christiansted, St. Croix, on a quiet Friday afternoon in June. A breast cancer advocate, Diane, strives to increase awareness and build camaraderie amongst breast cancer survivors, which, surprisingly to many, also includes males.

After Googling healing art therapy, Diane came upon bust sculpture as a way for women to memorialize and, perhaps, even honor their mammary glands. Most of the women had made the choice to keep their breasts or instill implants. Survivor Debra Kissinger recalls being tickled when she did her first bust sculpture just two weeks prior to her mastectomy. She spoke of pride and embracing a “badge of courage.” “Not all women can easily rebuild,” she shared, patiently waiting to capture her new form with plaster.

It was a dimly lit room full of women, undressing, breasts bare, masks on, surrounded by art. This event was a sisterhood — women from all walks of life and ages sharing their stories of resilience, of uncertainty as they had explored for the first time the “C” word. There were also stories of surgeries and procedures, but no tears were shed, on that day at least. Instead, as plaster was gently being applied with consent, these women laughed boldly. The intimacy, the continued journey of healing unraveling as some spoke of the support they received from family.

Diane Hampton and Sonia Nahar at the art healing event in Christiansted. (Submitted photo)

Claretta Randolph was diagnosed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with overworked hospital staff and solo doctor visits due to visitation restrictions. She looked around the room and noted, “I feel good.” Her celebrations continued as Sonia Nahar Deane, owner of Cane Roots Art Gallery, mentions to Claretta’s surprise that her son was the recipient of the second annual Leo S. Carty scholarship.

“We are in it together,” said Sonia as other women noted that cancer would be a never-ending story of medication and doctor visits. I wouldn’t allow myself to lose “faith or survivor mentality” noted Shonde’ Iashell Walker, the youngest of the woman. “Having something memorable is a big deal,” she continued.

Art therapy, as a form of healing, is being offered to the community through the VI Breast Cancer Project, a sponsored project of the St. Croix Foundation Inc. In late July the women will showcase their sculptures at Cane Roots Art Gallery. For more information visit https://www.vibreastcancerproject.com/ and https://canerootsartgallery.com/.

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