How writing can be good for the body
Experiencing breast cancer led to Shirley McClure writing poetry, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON
ON THURSDAY, poems will be distributed on meal trays in hospital wards, in outpatient clinics and staff canteens in hospitals around Ireland. The Poems on the Menu initiative – this year co-ordinated by the writer Mai Leonard on behalf of Naas General Hospital – is an arts and health project now in its fourth year.
The project began in the Waterford Healing Arts Trust (What) at Waterford Regional Hospital and events have been organised every year since then on October 4th – All Ireland Poetry Day. This year, What will further celebrate the day with a poetry reading, Waiting List, by Waterford-born poet, Shirley McClure.
McClure was chosen to read because she has written poetry about her experience of breast cancer. It is her first time involved with the project.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Both my parents had recently died of cancer and I went on to have a mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. I managed to escape chemotherapy and radiotherapy by participating in a clinical trial for a hormonal drug treatment,” explains McClure.
“While I was in hospital after my surgery, my surgeon noticed that I was looking morose. He talked to me and asked me what I liked to do. First, I said I love to swim – which was out of the question at the time – and then I said that I write poetry. So then I asked a friend to bring in my dictionary and thesaurus and I wrote the poem Mastectomy. Later I wrote Reconstructed about the time I went to visit a woman in Wicklow who had had a double mastectomy.” Both poems were published in Shirley McClure’s first collection of poetry, Who’s Counting (Bradshaw Books, 2010).
“I had already written about half of the poems in Who’s Counting – many of which are light-hearted. So the poems about breast cancer are a bit of a change.” Shirley McClure got married in 2008, soon after her breast reconstruction surgery was completed. “I remember meeting people who’d say – I heard your news, I’m so sorry and I heard your news, congratulations.”
McClure wrote a poem about the parallel experience of being measured up for a breast implant and then a month later being measured up for a wedding dress.
She also drew on her professional experience as an aromatherapist and shiatsu practitioner/teacher while having treatment for breast cancer. “I had a weekly shiatsu session during treatment which helped my energy levels, kept me grounded and connected with my body rather than feeling afraid and alienated from it. I also used relaxation CDs in the hospital and later. And I use aromatherapy for the menopausal symptoms which are a side effect of the hormonal drug treatment I’m on still,” she explains.