On Friday, January 29, 2016, the Florida State University (FSU) Department of Art Education was graced with the presence of Dr. Richard Freadman, a prominent guest lecturer from Melbourne, Austrailia. The department, in conjunction with Arts for Health Florida held a spotlight event entitled Spanning Cancer: Cancer as an Episode in an Individual Life Story presented by Dr. Freadman. The event began at 12:30 pm. with an Australian Tea Meet and Greet in the William Johnston Building’s (WJB) Gallery Reception Area. Along with the opportunity to meet and network with Dr. Freadman in an intimate setting, home-made Australian delicacies (lamington cake and Anzac biscuits) and assorted teas were served to the attending guests provided by the department’s own Dr. Theresa Van Lith, also a native of Melbourne, Australia.
Following the tea, at 1:30 pm. Dr. Freadman and guests traveled upstairs to the WJB Lecture Hall in room 2005. FSU alumna, Executive Director of Arts for Health Florida, and Registered Art Therapist Merrilee Jorn gave a grand introduction of Dr. Freadman. Dr. Freadman’s presentation began with with a 3-part lecture on illness and the use of writing in health care, audience questions and a brief break, followed by a rare opportunity for the audience to share and do a writing of their own with medical orientation.
The first section of the lecture was entitled Illness and Identity Narratives. Dr. Freadman discussed the ways in which technologized modern medicine and psycho-oncology, along with autobiographical narratives connect and aid in helping individuals cope with threatening medical diagnoses. Dr. Freadman emphasized that all people are skilled narrative creatures, unless they are seriously impeded and lack artistic language narrative capacity. Every person has a narrative. Therefore, it is their responsibility to tell their narrative as truthfully as possible (nonfiction) so that its readers can gain visual meaning and know and understand their truth.
According to Dr. Freadman, narratives are established early on in a person’s life. Because new experiences should be incorporated into a person’s existing narrative, a narrative is constantly being written. If people do not respond to their experiences with a narrative, the alternate option is disruption. For example, when the treatment ends of a person with an illness, their response may be to isolate their disease as a defense mechanism to keep their pain stored away. Instead of confronting their illness with a narrative, they may try to move forward with their life by living in denial. Dr. Freadman closed the first section of his lecture by acknowledging that narratives are not beneficial if a person prefers to keep their box sealed. Only those interested in documenting their experience should explore narratives further.
The second section of the lecture was entitled Not Just Rob’s Story. Within this section of Dr. Freadman’s lecture, he discussed the cultural and sociological experiences of Rob, one of his former cancer patients. Rob, a master builder and carpenter in excellent physical condition, realized that a mole on his right arm was actually melanoma. Now in an unfamiliar state of anxiety, Rob had to undergo multiple operations and heavy chemotherapy leaving his body physically debilitated. The symptoms Rob faced, the shock of his diagnosis, treatment, and remission were all discussed as part of his cancer experience to provide the audience with an actual example of what is involved in writing narratives.
In the last section of the lecture entitled Rob’s Story and Reparative Writing, Dr. Freadman shared more about Rob’s writing experience. Dr. Freadman read Rob’s first piece of writing, the revision process, and Rob’s later version. Dr. Freadman suggested for Rob to use key metaphors to represent phases in his life, engage with the experience, and to aid in expressing his feelings toward his cancer diagnosis.
After questions and a break, guests returned to the lecture hall to use Dr. Freadman’s writing tips to make a composition of their own. Paper and pens were provided, along with three suggested topics: 1. Write an experience of care in a medical situation in which you felt you made a difference (even if only briefly). 2. Write about a medical experience of your own. 3. For those who prefer to avoid medical topics: Describe an experience or person which/whom you find often find ‘bubbling up’ into your mind. It doesn’t matter if the experience or person seems unimportant.
Guests were given twenty minutes to write on one of the suggested topics. The opportunity was then extended for them to share their compositions and receive feedback from Dr. Freadman and other guests. Before closing, Dr.Freadman emphasized that everyone has a story to tell and expressed the importance of sharing it with others. If you have available time, clear your schedule and write your narrative. If you enjoy the process, do more of it.