“Many years ago, I was taken by a patient’s sketch of how they felt following major surgery. I realised the powerful message that art and patient, together, can bring to help everyone understand that little bit more of what it is like to have had Head and Neck Cancer.”
During John’s recent treatment for cancer of the tongue John started making artworks about how he felt and he and Simon, his clinician, dreamt up a new project…
“We are pairing artists with Head and Neck Cancer patients to co-create a work of art that represents how we feel about being diagnosed and treated.
“Through the shared process of making and best representing how it feels, we ask the artist and the patient to explore and discuss together. The art can be in any media. It might be a portrait, or it might not. We set no limits to creativity. We expect this to be an adventure for both.
“The results will be shown in exhibitions and on the internet if participants are happy with that happening. We are starting soon with five pairs locally. We aim to raise funds to expand nationally with the intention of going global. We see that ‘Showing How We Feel’ will eventually form a world map of feeling that will bring people together across our differences of diagnosis, gender, ages, and cultures”.
If you want to contribute to the project as a patient, artist or funder, email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click on the pictures to see how John feels…
‘Festival’, John Hyatt, oil painting, 2015
The first time I was diagnosed with throat cancer was back in 2014. It was just above my vocal cords and no surgery was possible. I had six weeks of radiotherapy and six weeks of chemotherapy. I felt so weak and got so thin. The cure was the thing to recover from, not the cancer! I resolved to paint every day even if it meant five minutes painting followed by five hours sleep. I was stuck in one room, pouring nutrient drink into the PEG feeding tube into my stomach and watching Glastonbury on TV. I had been a singer in a band, The Three Johns, but now I had no voice at all. I painted this picture, ‘Festival’, it was of all the music festivals that I was missing. I tried to incorporate all the life that I didn’t have. However, on a happy note, I did recover my voice (or a new one) and went on to form a new band, Glamogoth.
‘The Stoic’, John Hyatt, self-portrait, oil painting, 2021.
“Sorry if this is a challenging image but, to be honest, after my second cancer was removed from my tongue and 21 lymph nodes from my neck, I really did feel challenged. My sense of self was threatened. My face felt like it belonged to someone else. It also felt like it was a cardboard shoebox more than a part of me. I painted this later from a selfie that I took just after surgery. Before that, I had never had an operation in my life apart from having my tonsils removed as a kid (when it was all the rage). I was lying there vividly remembering that time in hospital as a child. In 2021, it was lockdown, and no visitors were allowed but, back then when a kid, mum and dad brought me a Stingray colouring book and some felt pens. I loved it in hospital. Only jelly and ice cream to eat. I realised that I hadn’t really changed much at all and that made me more Stoic and comforted.”
‘All the Hyatts in One Face’, John Hyatt, oil painting, 2021
“During my healing process after the tongue operation and neck dissection in 2021, I started a painting where I tried to incorporate all the family in one, new, merged composite portrait. It was a big face - one metre by one metre. Jessica Liu from Face Lab at Liverpool John Moores University made me a composite digital photo that blended the features of me, Liz and the two kids. I started the painting from that. Why? I don’t know. It was to take my mind off my own cut neck and the scar. I thought, also, trying to get the symmetry right would encourage my brain to correct the swelling of my face by sending out repeated error messages to the tissue. However, it went further than that. As I painted this merged face, a completely new person started to appear – a new Hyatt. This new Hyatt merged ages and genders. With a slight change whilst painting my mum appeared or Liz’s dad. It felt like all the generations stretching right back into the depths of time were in that face. Going back generations and generations, all our family trees start to join up. We become one big human family. All the way back to our joint roots in Africa. All the ancestors of our common humanity visiting to say, “Keep on John, you’ll get it right in the end.” Plus, all the Hyatts yet to come were taking shape before my eyes. That was a great comfort and source of strength.
‘Quite the Gentleman: showing my inner self’, John Hyatt, Photographic PET scan image, 2022.
“It was a great surprise and disappointment when, in March 2022, I was diagnosed with a third new cancer just behind my tongue by a PET scan. To be honest, the drama of the diagnoses was getting less every time and my feeling was more like getting the car fixed. I trusted the garage I was being sent to (Aintree Head and Neck), so, I feel, let’s just get the job done as soon as possible and get back on the road of life. My operation is next week. I am, of course, not keen on ruining the paintwork. I know that my face will be a bit of a mess. This is a touch of vanity but, also, I know that it would be hard for my partner, Liz, to see me post-op. This time around, it has delayed the start of the ‘Showing How We Feel’ project but I’ll soon be recovered and Simon and I will be off and running.”