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Using Art to Open Conversations About Cancer, With Guest Eileen Powers
Episode 1651st December 2020 • WE Have Cancer • Lee Silverstein
00:00:00 00:34:16

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On this week's episode of the WE Have Cancer podcast, Lee talks with Eileen Powers, an artist, cancer patient, and creator of Can You Make Hair For Me.

While some view their cancer diagnosis as a battle or war as a way to cope, Eileen turned to art. With a loss of her hair and self-identity, Eileen noticed how uncomfortable her friends were with her journey and her cancer. So, she turned a negative into a positive by asking people to make hair-related art for her as a way of more comfortable and opening a dialogue about her diagnosis.

Guest biography:

Eileen Powers is an artist and creator of Can You Make Hair For Me. When she was diagnosed with lymphoma, she used her art background as a way to not only cope with having cancer and to forge a self-identity, but also to connect to those around her that she felt were uncomfortable.

Table of contents:

  • Introduction

Lee introduced Eileen and her background as an artist

  • Being blank

Much like a blank canvas, Eileen describes herself as being blank. She discusses how being blank and able to redefine herself is a positive.

  • Flipping the narrative

Lee and Eileen share their thoughts on the terms most often used to describe dealing with cancer, including words like "battle" and "fight." They talk about their personal dislike of viewing cancer as a competition or war and give their outlook.

  • Dealing with death

Continuing on the previous topic, Lee and Eileen talk about how the fear of death shapes how we talk about cancer and to the patients dealing with it.

  • Eileen's follicular lymphoma diagnosis

Eileen shares her cancer story. From a routine colonoscopy, her doctors diagnosed her with follicular lymphoma. Eileen talks about her reaction and that feeling of becoming a different person upon her diagnosis.

  • Getting a 2nd opinion

With scheduling difficulties, frequent trips to the emergency room in excruciating pain, and the feeling no one was listening, Eileen got a second opinion from a different hospital. This oncologist didn't agree with the initial diagnosis and got her started on treatment right away.

  • Extensive treatment

With a second opinion, Eileen started chemotherapy which worked so well to reduce the size of her tumors that her intestines began getting tangled up. She needed emergency surgery to remove several feet of her small intestine.

  • Recurrence and stem cell treatment

A few months after several rounds of chemotherapy and surgery, Eileen's cancer was back. This time, she entered a research study that included stem cell transplant and immunotherapy.

  • Eileen's big project

After losing her hair and her self identity to cancer treatment, Eileen began to feel isolated as friends would drop food off but not stick around. It was there Eileen realized she needed to redirect people's energy in a way that was more helpful and turn a negative into a positive. So, she asked people to make hair for her -- whatever that meant to them -- as a way to bridge the gap and get people talking.

  • Can you make hair for me

With the idea figured out, Eileen has taken it to new heights. She talks about some of the more interesting pieces she's received, including an art exhibition started at Lesley University with their expressive therapy grad students. Eileen also talks about what the project has done for her and those around her.

Links mentioned in the show:

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Lesley University exhibition 

Know someone touched by cancer who has an inspiring story? Email Lee

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