Monday, 25 October 2021


In the third of our four guest postings around lived experience, today sees the candid personal story of Ruth Flanagan, who shares her experience of cancer and of the liberating nature of arts in her life. As ever, I can't thank Ruth enough for sharing her experience. 

Ruth Flanagan
Illness has always been a large part of my life. I have early childhood memories of sitting bored for hours on end in the doctors waiting room whilst my mum had her monthly injection. My one and only grandparent, a single memory of her lying sick on the sofa dying from lung cancer. My Mum, again; heart attack, angioplasty, sepsis, dementia, Covid, broken pelvis, the exhausting privilege it is to care for her. 

My own illness came at the age of 15, after a year of chronic pain and misdiagnosis. Cancer. The late effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy present me still with a rolling continuum of ailments, failures and diseases. 37 years old, a separate different cancer diagnosis, unrelated. “You have just been unlucky twice” said my consultant. 

I have used the arts for many years to manage my experiences of illness. During my childhood cancer I would draw repeatedly my re imagination of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

My work as a designer maker has led me into a passion for using the arts to enhance wellbeing for myself and others, specifically through pattern design upholstery and book printing.

I have a passion for arts health, the improvement of cancer services and coproduction. I am proud to be one of the North West regional champions for The Lived Experience Network (LENs) The LENs is a network of people who believe in the benefits of creative and cultural engagement to individual and collective wellbeing. I work with the LENs network in the North West to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience remain at the heart of the arts, health and wellbeing movement.

I believe that Arts engagement can help with the self-management of long term illness and I want to share my lived experience of using the arts to empower people to manage their own wellbeing as suggested in the All Party Parliamentary Group report ‘Creative Health’: To highlight ‘the transformation of the healthcare system from hospital centred and illness-based to a person-centred and health-based system’.

An example of my Arts Health work included working with the Macmillan Cancer Improvement Partnership (MCIP) I managed an arts project to design and upholster a chair.

The chair was produced to leave a legacy of the people affected by cancer whose volunteering work was a key part of the cancer improvement scheme. The chair was also designed to inspire others to volunteer in the future. I worked with volunteers to co-produce a wing back chair with co-designed fabric. The chair went on display at The Christie, Wythenshawe Hospital and Trafford General. You can see more HERE.  

It is only natural now that I want to focus on wellbeing. I go to the allotment, I swim outdoors, I write, I make prints, I catch mindful moments on film. I create.

I believe the arts shouldn’t be an extra or little luxury – but something that is woven in to the fabric of my life. 

I wasn’t “unlucky twice” I’ve been lucky twice and the arts have helped me.

Ruth Flanagan. Twitter @un_luckytwice

A research partnership project led by More Music and the International Centre of Community Music
How do partner-practitioners in the Music for Health in Morecambe project understand and communicate its value and why? This report shares findings from ‘Working Together’, an action research project designed by More Music and International Centre for Community Music (ICCM), led by Dr Ruth Currie.

Last week I shared news of a research event over in Morecambe and I'm pleased to share their report HERE.

 “This report shares the learning from our collaborative research. It suggests that knowledge-exchange processes have value for how partnerships can work together across policies and perceptions of music’s role in challenging health inequalities towards place-based social action.”

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