Belfast Telegraph

Brush with cancer - how Siobhan painted her way through illness

By Jill Goligher

A woman who survived cancer is holding an art exhibition documenting her journey with the disease.

Siobhan McQuade, a retired teacher from Cloughoge near Newry, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008.

She found solace at the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland art therapy service, which sparked an unexpected passion for painting.

Her exhibition, named Emerging, is being hosted by the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast from March 12-18, timed to coincide with Ovarian Cancer Month.

Siobhan explained: "My diagnosis came as such a shock. Cancer had a huge impact on my life. Feeling sad is too small a word to describe how I felt - I was lost in a black, dark, lonely space. Following my surgery I received chemotherapy in Belfast City Hospital. It was there I saw a poster about the Cancer Focus NI art therapy service.

"Having worked as a primary school teacher I know how much fun and enjoyment children get from art, so when I discovered this service I was overjoyed that there was an outlet for me."

Siobhan recalled breaking down in tears during her first session with Joanne Boal, the Cancer Focus NI art therapist.

"Cancer generated so many emotions - working with Joanne helped me address the frustration and anger that had built up inside me. It was a way of working through the tears and the horror of it all.

"She acts as a facilitator, so you are in complete control of what you create during the session. And she is so good at listening. It was transformative."

Through Cancer Focus NI, Siobhan discovered she had a passion for art.

"It awakened something in me and started me on a journey. After my treatment I was unable to go back to teaching. Instead, I joined art classes at the Southern Regional College in Newry and I haven't looked back."

Currently in the second year of her Masters, Siobhan has a diploma in foundation studies in art and design and a degree from the Belfast School of Art.

The exhibition represents her journey from illness to the present day.

It stems from her first work with Joanne, through her diploma and degree, leading to her development as an artist.

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