A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Just when I thought that life was really back on track and FBC was gaining more and more distance from our lives, our daughter (a.k.a. Finally Five) dropped a big fat reminder that FBC is still at the forefront of her mind (even though she hasn’t talked about it once).

This weekend, Finally Five joined me in my office for some coloring time while I tried to dig myself out from beneath the piles of clutter (that’s another story). I was pretty F-bomb shocked when she happily presented me with the following drawing.

 When I grow up, I don’t want to have cancer.

– Finally Five

After I took a couple of long, deep breaths, I thanked her for the drawing and asked her to explain it to me (see translation above). I asked her if she thinks that she will get cancer. She said, “Well you had it once, so I might have it but I hope I don’t.”


After another long, deep breath, I said that I hoped that she wouldn’t have cancer either. As much as I wanted to tell her that she would not ever have cancer, I did NOT tell her that she wouldn’t ever get it (because if, G-d fobid she does, then I become a liar).


Finally Five’s unconscious world of pictures made itself powerfully clear to me. From my graduate work in Child Development, I reminded myself that drawings often express a tremendous amount of information about what’s going on in a child’s unconsciousness. When the unconscious “speaks” in a drawing, it can express potentially disturbing issues that the conscious mind is either unprepared to face or unable to understand.

When pictures emerge from the unconscious, they present a tremendous amount of information. The key is not to decipher with accuracy what is within the picture as much as it is to ask concise questions as to what the picture may be communicating.

Art Therapy is wonderful because it encompasses both the creative process and self-expression. It is widely recognized for its therapeutic role in helping children cope with stresses (including a cancer diagnosis). When I was doing my pediatric hospice nursing, I frequently used art therapy as a way for children to communicate.

Art is a Silver Lined safe alternative to verbal dialogue, allowing a child to express feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, and achieve self-awareness and personal growth. Art is often a springboard for discussion about a myriad of things related to a diagnosis, treatment and prognostication.

I love this form of creative expression because, through a variety of options including paints, crayons, markers, collage, clay, and so on, it allows children to deal with potentially difficult issues at a safe distance and provides opportunities for making choices and feeling a sense of control.

Here are some tips to guide art experiences:

  1. Don’t interpret or guess at representations in children’s art. What looks like one thing may actually be something else (though, in this case, Finally Five’s art was pretty doggone clear).
  2. Limite the use of coloring books, patterns, or kits because they can stifle creativity and disproportionately reinforce product over process. That is why I gave Finally Five only a piece of paper and some markers.
  3. Show interest in what the child is doing, but refrain from asking unnecessary questions until the artwork is complete.
  4. Because art is a very personal process, don’t correct or help the child in his or her artwork.
  5. Don’t expect the child’s art to be aesthetically pleasing. I’m just sayin’…
Though Finally Five threw me for a pretty big loop the other day, I was so happy and relieved to know what is going on in her mind, heart and soul.  Her drawing provided an opportunity to have a discussion, albeit short, about the FBC that is still at the forefront of her mind. She hasn’t brought it up again, except to be sure that I post her drawing on the blog for you all to see.

It is never too late to have a happy childhood.

~Tom Robbins

Leave a comment


  1. Karlene says

    Wow! Children's artwork always has a special place in my heart- FF's newest piece touched me clear to my toes! How profound this little one is, Hollye if you want to start a fundraiser for BC who wouldn't want to wear a tshirt with that drawing on it?
    I am 56 but I Share her sentiments exactly-when I grow up I don't want cancer either and I continue to hope within my lifetime that our children won't either.
    Hollye, as to how you handled the situation-you continue to amaze me-would have taken more than a deep breathe for me to compose myself. Wow !

  2. says

    I'm praying that your daughter (Finally Five) will never have to know any more about cancer than she has to. It is amazing what you find out when you give a child a piece of paper and a few markers. bless her heart. I found this post so touching, thank you for telling us this story. You are an incredible mother, knowing the right thing to say to her. My prayers are with your entire family. Regards, Laurie from hibernationnow.wordpress.com

  3. Brenda Steele says

    I was very touched by your post, as an adult daughter of a mother that passed from breast cancer I can tell you from a daughter’s point of view, that the idea or thought of being inflicted with the same dreaded disease never really ever leaves your mind. I dread my yearly mammogram, as I am just sure I will hear those dreaded words no one ever wants to hear, “You have cancer”, but I go religiously anyway; holding my breath until the results come back and fortunately so far, I have been lucky!

    I was only 18 when my mother was first diagnosed, and just 28 when she passed away; a young mother myself, I wasn’t done learning from her; not done needing her; I’m not even sure now at the ripe ‘ol age of 50, that I’ll ever be done.

    Thankfully treatment has come a long, long way since that dreadful day in 1989 when I had to tell my mother it was okay to “go”. You have to believe that you will survive this and you'll come out the other side a better person. My mother once said to me, "I would never wish cancer on anyone, but I wish everyone could live their life knowing that their time is short, you really do stop to smell the roses, you don't sweat the small stuff, and you appreciate every moment you're given", wise words to live by I believe.

    They only advise I can share in regards to your daughter is to always tell her the truth, as much as a 5 year old can comprehend, and just love her the best way you can, because none of us are promised tomorrow.



    • says

      Dear Brenda,
      Thank you so very much for sharing your story. I am so sorry to hear about your Mom. It sounds like she was a very special woman…and that you had a wonderful relationship.
      I appreciate your advice and have done exactly as you suggest.
      You're so right that none of us is promised tomorrow and that living everyday is the very best that we can do.
      Thank you, again!

  4. Yvette says

    This made me cry. I'm a month behind you on FBC diagnosis and we had the exact same treatment although I didn't need radiation.

    I have a 19 year old daughter who watched her vibrant, full of life mom turn into a hairless, fatigued, fragile creature during treatment. My greatest fear is that she may (God forbid) have to go through the same thing one day. I can handle me, but not my kid.

    Thank you for your Silver Pen, since our diagnosis was so close together it was like I was going through treatment with you. You made me laugh, cry and feel not so alone.

    You're awesome. :)

    • says

      Thanks so much for your note, Yvette. I can't tell you how much it means to me! I felt the same way: FBC can come after me, but NOT my child! You are definitely not alone. I firmly believe that we are all in this together! Thanks, again!

  5. Nancy Rogachenko says

    Hi Hollye: A few posts ago, you wrote about your compression sleeve. (loved your pictures from Cuba, now on my list of future travel destinations) I am a fellow survivor, 2 years since I began the journey on this one way road. I attended the LBBC conference in Oct. and stopped by the "Lyphadiva" table. They have patterned, wild compression sleeves. Thought you might want to check out their products. (I talked to them about a water resistant fabric for pool exercise, please , not selling them! I am back to teaching water aerobics, motivated to help us get our quality of life back, not just the WNL or new normal) I have read your blog since September and I check in as I would a friend's email. Your voice affirms the positive turn that our road can take, even though it remains that FBC was the beginning!

    • says

      Thanks for your note, Nancy! I really appreciate your kind words.
      "Lymphadiva" is a fabulous name. Love it!
      So glad to hear that you are back in the water. My oncologist just suggested to me that I begin swimming and/or water aerobics (to add to my running and tennis). Happy to hear that you are finding a new normal.
      Thank you, again!
      Take good care!

  6. says

    Wow. That's a pretty powerful kid you have there. It's amazing how direct kids can be. I hope she doesn't get cancer when she grows up too. Hope my daughter doesn't either. XO