Posted on Thursday 28 March 2019
A woman who was inspired by her cancer diagnosis to create an art exhibition is now running wellbeing workshops for other cancer patients, schools and community groups.
Jenni Burrows, 49 from Hayle in Cornwall, was diagnosed with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that affects the skin, in July 2015.
The former secondary school teacher was treated at Guy’s Hospital, initially with radiotherapy and then a chemotherapy tablet to control the disease, and continues to be monitored by medical experts.
Jenni said: “When I received my diagnosis I was in shock and thought ‘people like me don’t get cancer’ because I have no family history of it.
“As soon as I found out that the lump on my back could be cancer I started creating textile art and called the collection ‘You’ll be Fine’, because those were the words my friends used when trying to reassure me.”
Jenni added: “The rare type of lymphoma I have means my skin can get really itchy and in the early days made me very anxious. The artwork helped relieve my anxiety and was a coping strategy when my thoughts became jumbled and started spiralling out of control. Now, I can recognise the symptoms and my immune system kicks in to keep it at bay.”
You’ll be Fine – which includes painting, drawing, stitching and printing – started off as a private project. Jenni visualised what her cancer cells looked like to develop the collection and gave her consultant, Professor Sean Whittaker, the initial piece at her first appointment.
Jenni said: “Professor Whittaker’s enthusiastic response was the catalyst for me to continue developing the artwork. The whole team at Guy’s Hospital looked after me holistically and have made me feel as though I’m their only patient. I feel very supported.”
Jenni exhibited her collection for the first time at the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) meeting in London in 2017, and presented a poster that she co-wrote with Danuta Orlowska, clinical psychologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, about the therapeutic benefits of creativity during illness.
Last year, Jenni was also invited to lead workshops and speak about her experience at The Cutaneous Lymphoma Foundation Patient Conference in Washington.
Jenni said: “I am now delivering art and wellbeing workshops for primary schools and community groups, as well as other patients with the same type of cancer at Guy’s Hospital. It’s not about creating a masterpiece, it’s about the process of producing something and that sense of achievement.
“I’m living with cancer as a chronic condition and this is a form of practical mindfulness that helps me to cope and it might help somebody else who is going through a difficult situation. I never wanted skin lymphoma, and I still don’t, but as a textile artist I feel really fulfilled doing this work.”
Jenni hopes that donating her blood and tumour samples to researchers at Guy’s Hospital will help future cancer patients.
Jenni said: “Giving my samples for research is vital to help diagnose and understand the disease. Cutaneous lymphoma is rare and difficult to detect. Before my diagnosis was confirmed, it was reassuring to know that there were researchers getting up every morning to find out more about my condition.”
A short film about Jenni using textile art as a therapy will be screened at Real to Reel: The Craft Film Festival, which will take place in May to coincide with London Craft Week.
Watch the short film and see Jenni in action creating her artwork.
For more information about Jenni and her artwork, visit www.youllbefine.co.uk.