Cancer & me 35 years on - Vol 10 'A Chance encounter'

'Cancer & me 35 years on, Vol 10' written over a photograph of lots of tubes of paints and paintbrushes laid out on a wooden table.

We are back today with a further instalment of Willo's blog series 'Cancer & me 35 years on.' Willo is a member of our Community who was diagnosed with Anal cancer in 1986 while living in Zambia and has been sharing her experience of life post diagnosis, as well as her amazing artwork, in her blog series with us.

So far Willo has covered her experience of moving back to England for treatment, her Brachytherapy and Abdominoperineal Resection and the amazing friends and family that helped her through. In today’s blog we pick back up with Willo on the day of her interview for a course in Fine art at a university in Liverpool.

Throughout her series Willo has written about all aspects of her life after diagnosis, helping us to remember that life after cancer and moving forwards from treatment to look to the future is sometimes an under documented part of the Cancer Experience.

Looking to the future and finding a way to get back to your career after cancer treatment can be difficult. Receiving a diagnosis and going through treatment can have an impact on your way of thinking about the future and coping with uncertainty. In today’s blog Willo tells us about a time where even when things seemed not to be going her way, something positive and wonderful started to unfold.

A  bright and colourful painting by Willo of the teacup ride at a fair.

‘The Graphics department was displaying work that did little to inspire me. I chatted with some students who suggested I go over to the main building in Hope Street and look at the current exhibition.

Leaving my heavy portfolio in someone’s office I wandered a little way back down Myrtle Street and turned left into Hope Street. I walked along the street and crossed the road to the Hahnemann Building.

“Some hope” I mused as I entered the imposing building and wandered aimlessly into the exhibition gallery'

A patinated plaster sculpture of Willo's dad William by Willo“Some hope” I mused as I entered the imposing building and wandered aimlessly into the exhibition gallery, looking up as someone entered from a door at the opposite end of the room. It was Mr Tall. “What are you doing here?” he asked. I recounted my past experience in art, a brief outline of my cancer, my time in Africa and the need for me to move with modern times and my ambition to get started on a course without further delay.

‘I told him my sorry tale regarding the selection committee and how they disparaged me.’

I told him my sorry tale regarding the selection committee and how they disparaged me and advised me to do a foundation course. He snorted at the very thought but asked why I didn’t want to do graphics. I explained that I’d had been there, done that and felt too old for the cutting edge of the market. He understood my concerns, but went on to remind me that graphics covered a wider spectrum that could include printmaking – his department – and anyway, if I got accepted, I could always change direction once I had started and get transferred to painting or sculpture.

'He understood my concerns but went on to remind me that graphics covered a wider spectrum.’

He invited me into his department to have a look around and when I had finished doing so I sat with him in his office for a chat and a coffee. I liked what I saw of the printmaking and I liked him.

‘I liked what I saw of the printmaking and I liked him.’

He asked if he had managed to convince me to enrol for Graphics, but I was still very down in the dumps at the thoughts of having to postpone for another year in order to reapply.

What would I do for a year?

He had the solution… collect my portfolio, climb the stairs again and knock on the door of the office at the top, to go in and “demand” to see the Head of Department.’

He had the solution; he told me to return to the Myrtle Street building, collect my portfolio, climb the stairs again and knock on the door of the office at the top, to go in and “demand” to see the Head of Department, Bruce S, the smaller bearded dapper gent I had seen with him on the stairs earlier. I laughed – in no way was I going to demand to see anyone. He was serious, but added – “don’t tell him I sent you”. I bade him a fond farewell and retraced my steps.

A patinated plaster sculpture of Willo's dad by Willo

'I laughed – in no way was I going to demand to see anyone. He was serious, but added – “don’t tell him I sent you”'

Collecting my portfolio I knocked tentatively on the door of the office and a female voice invited me to enter and I asked to see Mr S. The secretary told me to go right into his office – did I hear correctly – did she say, “he’s expecting you?”

'The secretary told me to go right into his office – did I hear correctly – did she say, “he’s expecting you?”'

Before I could dwell on those words I was in the office and after a brief introduction, Bruce told me to spread the contents of my portfolio onto the floor. No sooner had I done this than the door opened and Mr Tall entered, grinning.

‘No sooner had I done this than the door opened and Mr Tall entered, grinning.’

In view of his instructions I was startled to see him (but I had heard the secretary correctly), and they looked at my work together. They asked if I would like to re-apply there and then for Graphics and I realised this was an opportunity not to be missed. After a bit of form filling they said I would hear if I had been accepted in due course. I thanked them and left with a lighter heart.

‘They asked if I would like to re-apply there and then for Graphics and I realised this was an opportunity not to be missed.’

We want to thank Willo for sharing her experiences and artwork with us here today. Why not take a look at the rest of Willo’s series so far? Simply click the links below to see more of Willo’s writing and amazing art work.

Vol 1 - ‘To begin at the beginning’
Vol 2 – ‘Best friends forever’
Vol 3 – ‘The journey home’
Vol 4 – ‘Brachytherapy

Vol 5 – ‘Jolly hockey sticks!’
Vol 6 – ‘The Abdominoperineal resection with colostomy’
Vol 7 – ‘The recovery’
Vol 8 – Lanzarote & Menorca
Vol 9 – ‘The interview’ – International women’s day

Whatever you go through after diagnosis, our Community is here for you and our Life after cancer’ group is a space for cancer survivors and those who have finished treatment to come together to support one another. In this blog post, Willo talks about returning to education after cancer treatment. If you need any support returning to work or education after your diagnosis, our Work Support team are here for you. You can call and speak to our team Monday – Friday 8am-6pm on 0808 808 00 00, or by posting your question in our ‘Ask a Work Support advisor’ session.

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