Research presentation at Joining Forces for Cancer Care

The dance

Benna and I have recently presented the research work we did together in Joining Forces in Cancer Care, the first conference to be organised by Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. This, just about a year after we met somewhat serendipitously near the beach. She was reading a book with her son and I was catching up with some old friends close by. One of my friends knew Benna and she remarked about our connection before we had actually met. Over the course of these months, our ‘chance’ meeting has blossomed into a deep friendship and a rich exchange of meaning that developed into the research: ‘Creating chords of empathy in a frequency of trust; an exploration of the containing presence of Deep Shelter audio-visual project within Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre.

The research started with sessions where the audio-visual work Deep Shelter was shown by Benna to her clients. Following this Benna and I had a series of conversations. As we let the course of our interactions take shape, a narrative-based enquiry emerged where we let STORY become the focus of our work. Stories are ways in which people make sense of their lives and how they relate to their world. They are metafors which help us understand the different ways of seeing and beeing in the world. The process of story telling - hearing the story from the patient/client as practitioner, letting it seep into you and retelling it to the researcher allows for a process of externalisation - both on the practitioner/researcher’s side and also on the patient/client’s side.

By embracing our presence, position, being, narrative and knowledge (all that we ARE) and letting this alter the dynamics of our relation as researcher and practitioner we were led to embody the other’s narrative. It sounds complex but really it is a very natural process based on the desire to be available to others and to use reflexivity as a sort of lens that helps clarify what is hidden and only alluded to. I like to look at this as a sort of recycling of stories that then merge one into the other, leading to a co-lived journey between practitioner and research. This results in the bringing to light of some of the meaning that wants to reveal itself and an expanding awareness that allows the self to grow in relation to the other and to our commonality of being.

Another important aspect of our conversations was the way our interactions shifted - to an extent that we called it the dance between the therapist and the artist. At times Benna took the role of researcher and I of practitioner whilst when the need arose, I would become researcher and she practitioner. This lead to a fluidity of connection that enriched our conversations and allowed us to ‘sink’ further into meaning.

Our study shows that the ‘surrender’ to the natural progress of one’s body as it journeys through health and illness can be enabled through connection with the self, the other and the collective. These three aspects of connection intertwine, making it difficult to extricate the effects of one from the other. Rather, they work together so as to support the ill person in their evolution journey. What emerged from this research was the value of artistic works in containing both patients and staff alike whilst providing guidelines as to what types of artwork should be placed in an oncology centre.