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Art Washes Away the Dust of Everyday Life

by Emily-Kate Niskey

Inspiration image

Emily-Kate drew this self-portrait while she was undergoing breast cancer treatment.

When my breast cancer journey led me to a bilateral mastec­tomy and reconstruction, I knew recovery would be difficult. But I thought to myself, “I can handle it; I have a high threshold for pain. And emotionally, I’ll be fine. No big deal. I wanted new boobs anyway!” However, after the first few days at home, I was overcome with waves of emotional and physical pain. When my big sister asked how I was doing, I told her that I was just sleep deprived. Seeing right through my non­chalant front, she told me that it was OK to be upset, that I needed to let it out. So I started doing what I’ve always done when things are bothering me – I started drawing.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” For me, this quote rings true. Art is an escape that takes me away from my present, my past, and my future. When I draw, I don’t think about breast can­cer; I simply live in the moment. Drawing has helped me express my feelings and push through the pain.

Inspiration image

Emily-Kate Niskey

With my first post-cancer drawing, a sad version of myself with a pained look on my face and holes in my body forming the shape of a heart where my breasts once were, I began sobbing as my pencil flew frantically across the paper. After that, every time I was feel­ing physical or emotional pain, I would pull out my pencils and draw. Not only was this great emotional therapy for me, but I soon realized that I was also exercising my arms and fingers. (And it was a lot more rewarding than walking my fingers up and down a wall as my doctor had suggested.)

The pain and discomfort I experi­enced during my breast cancer journey resulted in many sleepless nights spent filling the pages of my sketchbooks. Any time I had to go to the hospital, I made sure the first things I packed were my sketchbook and pencils. During longer hospital stays, doctors, nurses, and orderlies would check in to see my latest drawing.

Drawing is what helped me get through breast cancer. If you’re struggling with pain, sadness, or worry during your can­cer journey, find an outlet that washes away the dust of your everyday life, something that takes you away from it all. Whether you draw a picture, make a collage, or sing at the top of your lungs, just do something that makes you happy.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Emily-Kate Niskey is a breast cancer survivor living in Las Vegas, NV. She is working on publishing a book of her drawings and thoughts from the sketch­books she filled during her breast cancer journey. You can check out Emily-Kate’s blog at

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2014.