THERAPY and care at Prospect Hospice allows patients not only to cope with a terminal condition but to reinvent themselves as individuals.
For hundreds of patients over the years, therapy through art has been central to treatment and a novel way to make sense of their new circumstances.
One of the main goals of the charity’s art programme is to both comfort and offer a creative outlet for complex and often conflicting feelings to people at the end of their lives or receiving palliative care.
Art therapist Susie Carr who has been running the programme at the hospice for more than eight years, explained that expressing their creativity had given some patients a new sense of identity.
“Most of the people in the group had never done any art before,” she said.
“But art therapy works on different levels – it can help physically to calm someone down or alleviate pain, and while they focus on something else sometimes the pain is almost forgotten.
“They might use it as a cathartic expression of pain or anger. Getting it out there can help them reflect upon their feelings and talk about them. It’s a way of expressing them but also of containing that expression, to make it less overwhelming.
“But it always gives them a new sense of identity. So often the impact of illness is significant and takes away a lot of the roles they held in life.
“People don’t know who they are anymore. Art is a way of expressing yourself and becoming someone new. It allows people to find something positive even within their illness by discovering that creative side.”
After initially entering remission, Hilary Stiles, of West Swindon, discovered last September that her triple negative breast cancer had returned with no hope of a cure.
Soon after the terminal diagnosis she came into contact with Prospect Hospice and joined the art therapy group and open studio sessions.
“I was first diagnosed when I was 48 or 49 years old,” said the 50-year-old Medical Research Council employee.
“I had chemo and everything was going well so I didn’t think I would need Prospect the first time. But the second time round it was diagnosed as terminal. I could have died three months ago according to the hospital.
“Coming to the group is getting me out of the house and you interact socially. It has been a positive thing for me, something I look forward to doing.
“Cancer changes you. My voice is different. I would never have thought to do anything like this – I was never artistic – but now I know I can do it. Coming to the group helps you meet new people and receive mutual support. And it helps with the change in you.”
For Jacquie Phillips, of Upper Stratton, who receives palliative care at the hospice for lymphoedema – a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissue – the sessions have proved a welcome escape.
“It is very therapeutic and you can forget whatever else is going on,” said Jacquie, 46.
“For me it is a release and an escape from the aches and pain. It is my safe haven. Whenever you sit at the art table you can have a chat and relax. I’ve done painting, jewellery making and mosaic.
“You are part of the family and it’s just brilliant. I would be lost without it.”