Living Legacies

Images into Words, Words into Images: a different kind of dialog

Remember the phenomenon of Pen Pals?

We are basing Living Legacies on that old fashioned concept, linking cancer survivors from different cities, states and countries.

We are using visual arts and creative writing to begin an extraordinary conversation about what it is like to live with cancer.

Below are examples of our very first Living Legacies : East Coast - West Coast Dialog


...a crystal abyss
...a dance
...a cockroach infestation
...a Wuss
...a Diva
...a STOP sign
...a crystal

Cancer-is-a-crystalGrowing slowly in my being
Unknown to me
Found by instruments
Unknown to me, in the beginning

And the surgeons are miners
Reaching with robots
Using remote controls
Searching grabbing cutting
Leaving the bed rock that is me
Stripped, bare, changed
An almost empty cavern
Laced now with pain and braces

Worried about unleashing other
Layers of distress
Wondering if the searchers
Will have to dig again
For other clusters of unknown worth
JE – Ovarian and Breast Cancer abyss

Cancer-is-an-abyssI am a scuba diver. One of my favorite types of dives is a wall dive… coming up over a ledge and looking down into the vast depths of the sea. What treasures are waiting at the bottom?

Then I was told I have breast cancer. The news sent me into my own abyss…. one of my own making and scary as hell. The ground was literally swept out from underneath my feet. I am falling, descending into blackness… nothingness. Why isn’t my air working? I can’t breathe… is my equipment not working? Yes, I guess you could say that. I can’t stop falling. Drop your weights! Still not slowing down! Am I going to die out here in this vast ocean of fear, regret & guilt?

NO! There are things for me to do! See the doctors – they tell me I will get through this. A little light breaks through. No metastases – Oh the relief! My legs have started working again – kick, kick, kick! The chemo is working – smaller tumors mean less weight dragging me down. And even less weight with the bilateral mastectomy.

I am changed, I am different. I now focus on the moment, enjoying the beautiful colors around me – the fish, the coral. The abyss is there, but instead of being my nemesis, it is the place where I have found the treasure of my true self.

JV – Breast Cancer​

...a dance

Cancer-is-a-danceI love to dance. Always have. But when cancer cut in–with a tap on the shoulder and a blow to my soul–to interrupt my life dance, I was not ready to change partners from the comfortable and satisfying one I had. Not to this awkward intruder threatening the Dance of Death. At first we moved awkwardly together–my new abrasive life partner leading, moving me hurriedly around the floor in unwanted and unfamiliar patterns and rhythms.

Then something happened. I began to lead–to decide what music it would be, and when and where. Now, almost three years later, we have become true partners, sharing a journey, dancing a life away.

VS – Stage 4 Metastatic Cancer

...a cockroach infestation

Cancer-is-a-cockroachIt starts in a small, cluttered room. You try to eliminate it by spraying. Next thing you know it’s in another part of your house. To get rid of cockroaches permanently you need to tent your whole house. That’s what chemo is like. Tenting your whole house. The difference is, while you agree to all the prep work and devastating side effects, there is no guarantee. No warranty. But you do it anyway hoping you will lessen the infestation, or better still, be part of the 1-1/2% group of outliers.

BS – Breast Cancer​

...a Wuss

Cancer-youre-a-wussDo you know who you’re messing with? Do you know what I did to the last disease that dared enter this body? I don’t think you get it, how wrong you were to choose me of all people. I want to let you know that you may have gotten past my defenses, snuck in through the back door but I have my eye on you now and you aren’t going to get away with shit. You see, this isn’t my first time dealing with you. And as much as that sucks, it gives me insider information. I know how you work. I know how you can drag not just the body down but the spirit as well. Not this time. No. This time you may be affecting my white blood count and I may need chemo for weeks and weeks but you won’t get my mind, my spirit.​

JN – Recurring Cancer

...a Diva

Cancer-is-a-DivaShe stands in the wings, waiting to make her grand entrance as the rich burgundy and gold trimmed curtains swish back to loud drumrolls. The spotlight bolts on, lighting up the center of the stage, then swishes towards the wings. And there she appears, bold and baring all; thighs thick, escaping from a too-tight skirt, buxom breasts taunting with each step revealing a cleavage deeper than Dolly Parton’s. Directly in the center of the stage, on the center of her body-fitted bright pink dress, we see it for the first time- the big black “C”. Oohs and whispers echo through the darkened theater and across the stage to where we stand, anxious and watching in the wings. The spotlight glares down on her bright pink lips as they curve into a lascivious grin, and highlights the luscious curves as she takes a bow. Pointing her long thin fingers towards me waiting on the side, shuddering and silent, she beckons for me to come on stage, to take my part in this drama of life.

BF – Stage 3 Breast Cancer

...a STOP sign

Cancer-is-a-stopsignThe crossing guard who tells you when to go and when to live.
Cancer tells you to smell more deeply,
look more closely and touch like you won’t let go.
All of those things you were going to do when you retire,
ha ha ha, cancer does not know that word.
Cancer is freedom. Freedom to swear, to use the good china,
to spend way too much money on a daughter’s wedding.
Cancer is life enhancing. I can’t believe I’m saying this but
it has made my life better? Not the hairlessness,
nor the vertigo but aside from that it has enriched my life.
Cancer is NOT the way I would recommend early retirement.
Cancer is love. I love EVERYTHING about my life,
my dying mother, my dysfunctional drinking Irish nuts
on both coasts that are sooo wonderful!
My son, still a work in progress is God’s little joke
to keep my humble. My beautiful daughters are my joy.
My sexy, wonderful, fantastic, until death do us part husband
is pure LOVE that only God could have imparted to me.
Cancer is blessings, so many I could write for days and
want to shout out to everyone.
Cancer is a STOP sign that saved my life.

AS – Stage 4, Breast Cancer

The idea was not to simply illustrate but to soulfully respond.


When Heidi received the writings from Sharon’s students, she folded them in half and in half again. Then she placed them in a clear zip-lock bag. She could not wait to distribute them, but how? Randomly, she thought, always a fan of serendipity. As she pulled the zip-lock bag out of her supply basket announcing that the words had arrived, she asked everyone to take a deep breath, quiet themselves and set an intention to select the writing that they needed to receive.

On the east coast, Healing Icons®  guided participants to create visually from their cancer experience. On the west coast, Dr. Sharon Bray offered expressive writing exercises. The writers sent their work to the artists who responded visually to their words. The artists sent their creations to the writers who responded accordingly.  The two creative processes wove a stunning tapestry of feelings and connection.


In 2014 and 2015 this series was sponsored by the Center for Colon Cancer Research of the University of South Carolina.  We thank them for their support.



“The primary benefit of practicing art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr

Discovering depth in the smallest of things, we experience the resiliency of the human spirit. Healing Icons offers support and community at all stages of the healing process.  Our classes offer art as healing for adult oncology patients. A family member or caregiver may attend with the survivor.




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