Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our Scholarship Contest for Patients and Caregivers to attend the Mayo Clinic Social Media Summit Oct. 17-21 in Rochester, Minn. See this post
for more details on the contest, and please cast your votes by liking or commenting on the candidates you think would be best.
Here is Kate Hawkes Essay:
The first time I sat with a small group of cancer patients, to facilitate their writing personal stories to culminate in a public theatrical production, I was quite unprepared for the powerful ripple effect of this onetime venture.
Seven groups later, leading the Performing Wellness™ process for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis, war veterans with PTSD, children and their families living with cancer diagnosis and people with HIV/Aids, I have come to expect it.
The power of facilitated writing, sharing first in the group then with actors and finally the public, to liberate a ‘sick’ person into empowered person is undeniable. Just how it works and at what level the healing occurs is less easy to describe.
Engaging in the creative arts accesses a deeper region of the body/mind/spirit connection, where self-knowledge, emotional tides and hope all reside. The writer is able to articulate and revision themselves not as a victim but as a creative individual with a gift to give. That gift is their story, their truth.
When the writer (now clearly not a patient but a fellow artist) entrusts that story to the actor, it relieves the burden of carrying that story alone. Somehow it is given away. The writer comes to know that they are more than this illness or trauma. And the applause of a live audience reaffirms that.
Even when the stories do not reach the stage, the Performing Wellness process frees each member of the group into the role of artist. The ‘playful’ elements of the writing exercises along with the deep-seated emotional releases as the stories unfold, effects the same kind of change.
Wearing my other hat, as a consultant with the Society for Arts In Healthcare, I assist organizations in bringing their work into the field of better health and support for patients and caregivers. I am inspired by the array of arts experiences available throughout the USA and internationally.
Human beings inherently want to help one another. We are moved by the challenges of others. We learn from and are encouraged by how others deal with adversity. Studies abound that show the positive effect of the arts on patients in hospital settings and as outpatients. The benefit of the arts extends to caregivers, both professional and family, providing community and release beyond the day-to-day interaction of the work.
There are many people to thank for their insights, courage, truth and generous gifts of themselves to the healthcare work I do. Among these is the veteran who wrote:
‘For the first time in my life I feel that the burden of Vietnam has been lightened and that I have begun to be freed of guilt that I felt for living when so may others, both America and Vietnamese, did not.’
There is the elderly lady who survived three different kinds of cancer, and created the suave figure of Cancer, dressed in black tuxedo, asking the audience to understand his point of view.
A young boy with cancer wrote a cowboy scene where The Kid pays cards against Death and wins because he has Love up his sleeve.
And the man with AIDS who wrote in the closing scene of his piece:
‘We are all one big drum skin pulled tight so that the music is deep and profound. The rhythm is that of life and death. The rhythm is the magic of our unconscious together beating, living and breathing.’
As an actress I perform that piece as the closing to my woman show, excerpting the writing of 10 Performing Wellness writers. It never fails to give me goose-bumps and inspire in me deep humility and great joy.
Attending the conference would enhance efforts to advocate for the arts as an integral part of healthcare to a wider range of individuals and organizations. My current social media outlets – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my website – are a beginning. My book Personal Magic – Creativity and Spirit for Empowerment In Times of Change is also coming to fruition.
I have the time, the energy, skills and passion to grow the experience into something far bigger than a one-week conference. As Tabor wrote, we are all one big drum-skin and I want to share the music.