Creative arts therapist Jane Gronow joins our 60 Voices series to share a personal and life-changing journey through a cancer diagnosis...

In 2016 Jane was diagnosed with bowel cancer. As a result, she decided to make significant changes in her life and career. At that time Jane was already enrolled in a Masters of Therapeutic Creative Arts, as part of the fulfilment of a long-held desire to reconnect with individual and community-based creativity. 

As an art therapy student, Jane was expected to keep a journal of her therapeutic sessions as a client and as a therapist.

The paintings below emerged from one session as a client in which Jane connected to a strong sense of unknowing. “I felt moved to pick up a brush and start painting.”

The words below are from Jane's journal and reflections at the time.

Today I was told I had cancer... Image from Janes journal. 17th June 2016.

I was both relieved and depressed when they told me I had a tumour in my bowel. It explained why I had been feeling so unwell and so very, very tired.

It also explained why I was so terribly anaemic and had wanted to sniff glue and other assorted chemicals. This was a result of significant internal bleeding that had been going on for some time. It made me realise I had lost control of my body.

I felt a sense of anger and betrayal that it had done this to me when I took such good care of it. However, I hadn’t listened to it or taken note of the messages it was sending me. I felt a darkness descending all over me… However, I have to wait and see until the surgery…who knows what is hiding behind that darkness now.

Today I was told they had cut it out but don

I realised when I was waiting for surgery that I was terrified. So many what-ifs and unknowings filled my mind with dread. My friend sat with me and held my hand. She reported her last image of me as they wheeled me away was “like a rabbit in the headlights”.

Through the fog of post-surgery, my sister’s tears and voice reached me. “They got it all.” She smoothed my brow and I slipped back into my drug haze and slept with an unconscious smile on my face.

The next morning, they made me get up and walk to the shower. OMG!!! My body was screaming with every fibre to stop them from doing this. The pain was unbearable but they said it was for my own good - bah humbug!

I absorbed that they had re-sectioned my bowel and they were waiting for pathology to see if it had spread…more unknowing???

Finally, I was told it hadn’t spread... Relief… I can finally feel the darkness lifting.

It was confirmed I wouldn’t need chemo and to get on with my life!

Today I was told I don

However, there had been an abnormality in my pathology and it seemed to indicate a genetic mismatch. What was this, I asked… Apparently, it means I may have a genetic abnormality that means I am more prone to bowel and other cancers.

The darkness is lifting but the shadow of cancer still hovers over me.

Today I don

I have been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome which has led to more preventative surgery and a continuing sense of uncertainty.

I know cancer has changed me but I don’t know what is next. I have made some significant changes to my life to limit the stress and pressures: I eat well and exercise and I get plenty of rest as I tire more easily now.

I am told I can return to normal but my new normal is not what it used to be. Nearly four years later, I am still in transition and the shadow still hovers. Some days it’s a very faint mist, other days it is heavy clouds. Most days I don’t think about it, but it is always there.

“Today I don't know what is next. Only that I must live life as if there are is no tomorrow... Cancer has changed me. Who I have become is not what I was, nor who I will be tomorrow - if it comes.”

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Jane Gronow was a community relations and social practitioner, with over thirty years’ experience in international and national development - humanitarian contexts and the mining industry. Before this, she worked in the education and counselling sectors and holds post-graduate qualifications in psychology and education. She has worked for non-government and multilateral sectors including OXFAM, UNICEF and UNAIDS, overseeing development and humanitarian programmes in South East Asia; Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe; the Pacific; Central America and Australia. She then went on to work with Rio Tinto as a Principal Advisor with the Global Communities team and was the global lead on gender and human rights. Jane now works as a Creative Arts Therapist, using a psychotherapeutic model, with women and children who have experienced family violence and is pursuing her own creative arts practice.