Gilda’s Toronto taught me how to live, manage, and thrive

If you had told me following my breast cancer diagnosis, “You’re going to write a poem about the lessons you learned from cancer,” I would never have signed up. Instead, the art therapy group Writing Through Cancer at Gilda’s Toronto taught me how to live, manage, and thrive with my diagnosis.

My name is Maria-Leena. I started art therapy in January 2020 after six months of chemotherapy.

I was in a “warrior” state but knew I needed more than the medical treatment and found it at Gilda’s Toronto.

I thought it would be arts and crafts, playing with paint and clay. I was surprised to see how beneficial and therapeutic it was. It was so important to have a space to speak about our grief or anger and express it in artistic ways.

My experience with friends diagnosed with stage one or two breast cancer kept me calm when I found the lump. But I soon learned my diagnosis was stage four, and it had already spread to other parts of my body. 

In response to the pandemic, Gilda’s Toronto moved to virtual programming.
This format provides peace of mind and allows me to attend the group even when treatment side effects may have prevented me from attending in person. 

My two children signed up for the teen group. Never in a million years did I think my son would participate in a group like that. I could have dragged him if it was in person, but I would not have imagined him to sign up, log in, and participate in Zoom. I don’t think he missed a session.

I was amazed at how Gilda’s Toronto managed to help the kids create connections, even though it was virtual.

My kids are so strong and positive. Something about that group was very comforting, knowing that all the teens in the group were going through a similar situation. They often talked about what they did in their days, their future dreams, and how the cancer diagnosis in their family was affecting them. That evening I would make them supper that they would take it on a tray to their rooms, and each sit in their bedrooms on their screens. We’d give them little treats, maybe a soda, fries, or pizza to make it special. They enjoyed it.

I plan to take part in the survivors’ group. I know it will be a safe space to discuss concerns that are weighing heavily on me. And I know this community will not only help me “live with cancer” but “thrive” with it.   

Learn more about how we help people live, while living with cancer; visit the programs page on our website.