Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment

Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment

by Sally Loughridge


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604430929
Publisher: American Cancer Society, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/01/2012
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Sally Loughridge is a cancer survivor and is currently a full-time artist after working nearly 30 years as a clinical psychologist. She teaches painting classes and exhibits her artwork in Maine. She lives in South Bristol, Maine.

Read an Excerpt

Rad Art

A Journey Through Radiation Treatment

By Sally Loughridge

American Cancer Society

Copyright © 2012 American Cancer Society
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60443-212-1


Day 1


I had always thought of my breasts as a matched pair. But since I received a diagnosis of breast cancer, they have become distinctly individual. I am anxious about starting radiation, and I feel protective of my right breast — in a familiar, motherly way. In this first painting, I am startled to see how dark the interior is, full of the mystery and menace of the cancer cells.

One treatment down, thirty-two to go! Six and a half weeks feels like a very long time. I am glad I have started this series of paintings, but I am not sure how my near-daily practice of studio painting will fare. I am already looking forward to my first weekend off treatment.

Day 2


I started this painting full of raw emotions and uncertainty about the radiation process. Do I need it? Will it help me? Will it have long-term side effects? I am angry that I need more treatment, angry that I have cancer.

I loaded my brush with magenta and sculpted a mountainous terrain. The landscape quickly became my profile as I lay on the metal treatment table — arms over my head, and knees elevated. I have to assume a very exact position and remain still during the treatment so that the rays can be precisely focused on the target area mapped on my chest. The jagged cloud shapes in the painting are the radiation beams aimed at my breast, coming from a huge, circling, and humming apparatus over the table. I have already begun to count the clicks and movements of the machine.

Day 3


This painting began as a deep purple field with three lasers angled downward. Soon I found myself adding my tattooed breasts. A few weeks ago, before the actual radiation treatments could begin, small permanent tattoos were made on each side of my breasts and in the sternum area. I had never really wanted a tattoo. Would I still like it at 80? But lately, my husband and I have fantasized about converting these little black dots into something more appealing — perhaps a garland of roses or hearts dancing across my chest.

These tattoos, together with the lasers, aid the radiation therapists in precisely lining me up for the treatment. This alignment is a strange and unknown process that I find unnerving. I hope it will soon become reassuring.

Day 4


I had always felt healthy and strong, but the discovery that I had — perhaps still have — cancer has reduced my confidence and morale. This painting began as a little yellow ball, which quickly became me — my head down, my arms wrapped around my knees, and my breasts guarded. I added the red in engulfing, menacing strokes.

Day 5


For the last month, I have been trying to use visualization to imagine the cancer cells leaving my body. Looking at this painting, I see the yellow-green field as healthy cell growth while the cancer cells race to escape from my body. Scat!

Day 6


I am still imagining healthy growth crowding out the bad cells. In this painting, the bad cells are weaker, smaller, and running for their lives. Yet, they seem almost human now. I have a weird moment of compassion for them.

Day 7


After my first weekend off, I resumed treatment yesterday feeling blue. This mood still grips me today. I don't like being this focused on myself or my body. It feels indulgent and weak. Despite having lots of love and support, I feel alone and apart.

Day 8


Today my emotional "sky" is clearing, but it's still such a lonely, barren landscape.

Day 9


When I began painting this morning, my palette was already filled with rich colors for a large landscape painting I am working on. I energetically laid every available hue on this small panel.

I can see the dark interior of my breast with brighter colors swirling around it. I can't feel anything happening inside me, but I am willing the cancer cells to die. To me, this painting represents the dynamic cellular activity that the radiation treatment is causing in my breast.

Day 10


As an artist living on the coast of Maine, I often portray the ocean with rich, blue-green hues. This painting began as an empty, lonely sea under a light sky. Soon, I found myself adding oddly shaped sails that grew nipples almost by themselves.

Day 11


Today's painting evolved into another seascape with islands and a sliver of warm light on the horizon. This scene reminds me of the type of work I usually create over a longer period. It feels good to have this quiet image float up "out of my nowhere" and not to make another picture of a cancerous breast or a scary procedure.

Day 12


Still fighting my resistance to the treatment, I have been trying to focus on the positive aspects of radiation therapy. This childish rendering of the earth with a brilliant sun appeared quickly today. Or, perhaps, it is my breast with nipple aglow.

Day 13


Every treatment is reassuringly the same — efficient and precise. But I am on an emotional roller coaster about the radiation process and, on a more basic level, about the cancer. Did the surgery remove all of the cancerous cells, or do I still have cancer? Not knowing is very hard. Feeling out of control is humbling and scary.

Day 14


Today, I am feeling more positive and seeing my way more clearly through this rough patch. I am almost at the end of the third week of treatment. The halfway mark approaches.

Day 15


I began this painting without a conscious plan, but soon saw the emerging curved shape, moving from dark to light, as my breast. In a fluid, sure gesture from left to right, I quickly made the final brushmark. Making this stroke felt especially good. I feel a welling of hope and movement forward.

Day 16


Today is my sixty-fifth birthday. To ensure that the radiation is given in the correct location, I am asked to state my date of birth and thus confirm my identity before each treatment begins. Perhaps, this painting reflects a wish to return to my carefree younger days by the ocean. Yet I don't know if the clouds are moving in or out.

Day 17


Seventeen is the absolute midpoint of my thirty-three treatments. Excited to be halfway through, I began this painting feeling positive. As I laid the blue in, the shape soon came to represent completed treatments. The arrow shows the way forward. It both surprises and unsettles me that the arrow appears to be bisecting a breast, no doubt my own. Apparently, my unconscious self aggressively grabbed hold of my brush. What does my future hold?

Day 18


My skin within the radiation field has become predictably redder and very sore. I had no idea how bothersome the itching would become, like mosquito bites many times over. I am using aloe several times a day for temporary relief and trying hard not to scratch.

Day 19


The itch continues and my fatigue is growing. Outside, an early Maine spring has brought blooms to our garden. This painting began as radiation beams, but grew into a flower bursting forth. It is glorious to feel this good today.

Day 20


As I painted this morning, a foggy scene appeared out of the dull, grey colors I was using. I am glad that light finally broke through the mist and haze.

Going to radiation therapy is now just part of my daily routine and feels less overwhelming. I take naps as I need them and allow myself time off from my art business whenever I want. I am anticipating the end of treatment and the approach of the summer season with renewed hope and optimism.

Day 21


I notice that I am now using lighter colors more often when I start my painting. This shape of mounded green gradually became a hillside field with a swath of wild flowers beckoning me forward. Happily, I am now focusing less on the cancer and more on how I can grow as an artist.

Day 22


I had fun making these curves. Perhaps they represent both my breast and this unexpected journey. Cancer has challenged my body, my sense of self, and my outlook on life. I have always been attuned to nature, but I am even more so now. A shift of light and shadow, the grace of a bird's flight, or a scent in the air acutely engages me. Moments of connection and love fill me with gratitude. Carpe diem!

Day 23


When I picked up my brush today, I began making stars and then added the falling star, perhaps me — humbled, imperfect, vulnerable, tumbling yet still shining.

Day 24


I am feeling calm and peaceful today.

Day 25


The itch has become increasingly uncomfortable. The rash and pain are distracting, and it's getting the better of me today. I am not quite this red-orange, although it feels that way.

Day 26


I began this painting using very dark colors, but brightened it with sunlight over the fifteen minutes I worked. I have always liked to paint trees with a glint of light glancing through them or reflecting off the forest floor. Perhaps the sun in this picture represents my growing recognition that treatment will soon be over.

Day 27


I visited friends today after my treatment and saw a vast stretch of a saltwater farm, once a dairy operation, now an oyster farm. The serenity of the scene — field, marsh, and river — brings me great calm and peace. I want to hold on to these feelings.

Day 28


Today, I began by having fun with color. Yet, as I painted, I started thinking about the ongoing cellular activity in my breast — the cancer cells dying and healthy cells regenerating. The initial delight of making colorful shapes soon disappeared. I found myself vigorously reinforcing these shapes with my paintbrush, as if trying to change my actual cell structure. I feel vulnerable and scared.

Day 29


Four treatments to go. The last five are called focal or "boost" radiation to the tumor's original site. I am grateful that the full breast radiation is over because it has caused so much skin irritation and discomfort. In this painting, I portray the "boost" as a warm, restorative beam.

Day 30


This painting reminds me of my annual stays on Monhegan Island, with five friends and fellow artists. The island has long been a mecca for painters, both renowned and unknown. Its hearty community, rocky terrain, and shifting seas continually intrigue me. Cancer, too, has a robust community — of patients, survivors, caregivers, and health care professionals — to face its challenges with courage. I am feeling more a part of that community now, and buoyed by its spirit.

Three treatments to go! I am surprised that this picture is relatively dark, yet relieved that the light is breaking through the clouds. I do not like the radiation process, but knowing I will soon be on my own without daily medical treatment and support makes me feel a little shaky. As I resume my full active life, I know it will be with a new sense of vulnerability, shadow of uncertainty, and deepened appreciation of each moment.

Day 31


I felt playful and curious as I made these overlapping arcs. I'm not sure what's around each curve, but, today, I am feeling more confident and positive.

Day 32


With one treatment left, it feels as if a new day is breaking after four dark months of anxiety and uncertainty. And yet my painting looks overworked and too deliberate. I think I am trying too hard today to be upbeat.

Day 33


Radiation treatment is over! Today, I spread the paint around like I was richly buttering my bread. I feel a surge of joy and anticipation of life ahead.



by Sally Loughridge

Looking at these paintings again, I feel some of the same tough emotions I experienced during treatment: fear, vulnerability, anger, uncertainty, and sadness. These feelings fortunately are now less frequent and far less intense. Breast cancer remains in my consciousness at a bare simmer rather than a raging, uneven boil.

My paintings remind me of my cancer journey — from the moment of diagnosis through surgery and radiation — and the raw, overwhelming feelings that were often hard to express in words. Through the planned routine of making these paintings, I regained a greater sense of self-control and understanding. For others, writing poetry, keeping a journal, playing music, sculpting clay, or using another mode of expression may help as painting has helped me.

The rush and fluctuation of these intense emotions after my diagnosis contributed to my sense of losing my balance. There is no precise formula for how to weather a cancer diagnosis and course of treatment, but looking back, I realize that certain elements helped to steady and heal me. Finding a cancer care team whom I trusted was critical to both my physical and emotional recovery. Usually very independent, I gratefully accepted support from a caring network of family, friends, and professionals. Acknowledging pain and fear increased my sense of vulnerability, but it also brought me empathy and aid. I welcomed the many acts of kindness toward me, whether small, awkward, or grand.

Over time I recognized that my powerful, unfamiliar emotions were normal in such a new, scary situation. Sharing my story with trusted family and friends decreased my sense of isolation. I kept up my usual connections and contacts as much as possible. Humor — theirs and mine — was essential to keeping my spirit strong. I laughed and cried, each in its own time.

When I could not find words to convey my feelings accurately, I turned to art. Making daily "radiation" paintings gave me a structured outlet emotionally. As much as possible, I continued the regular activities that bring me pleasure and a sense of purpose, particularly art-making, reading, friendships, and being outdoors. Trying to find my balance again and greater ease with what I was experiencing, I became even more finely attuned to nature's rhythms and my place within them.

My once typical pattern of high activity, interaction, and optimism was often jarred by my fatigue and health worries. I learned to be more gentle with myself by allowing space for a slower tempo, greater rest, and vacillating emotions. I began to set goals that were more attainable under the circumstances I was now in, rather than those I was accustomed to before my diagnosis.

Over this last year, my renewed optimism and increased physical energy have mutually enhanced one another. I am now able to set more ambitious personal goals; at the same time, I have become more sensitive to what really matters to me. Bolstered by health and joy, I feel strong and steady again. I hope that these Rad Art paintings resonate with you and will serve as a catalyst for self-expression, validation, and the sharing of feelings. Warm wishes for healing and resilience!


Excerpted from Rad Art by Sally Loughridge. Copyright © 2012 American Cancer Society. Excerpted by permission of American Cancer Society.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
gardenerME More than 1 year ago
Truly a heartfelt artistic and insightful journey that Sally has shared. What a very special book for those who have personally made this scary journey, for those who have been with a loved one on this journey, or for those like myself who are very thankful not to have had to go down this path.