Common Thread

breast cancer awareness month

Alyson Baker is an artist who was diagnosed five years ago with breast cancer. Alyson’s contemporary works are metaphorical images that depict the experience of coping with breast cancer. They include sewing, knitting and needle felting as well as watercolour painting – as a feminine response to research with other women who have experienced mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer.  Alyson hopes that her work will create some form of therapy for  women affected by breast cancer and increase awareness within the wider community. You can read more about Alyson and her work on her website.

The common thread is that we all struggle. Mine was losing my breast to cancer. Not knowing what to expect was like being thrown into the deep end. I still feel grief, as the thought that part of me is gone haunts me.

When I tested positive for breast cancer, my greatest fear had been realised. A subsequent visit to the surgeon confirmed my fear; I was going to lose my left breast. I was devastated.

At the time I was studying Fine Art at the Queensland College of Art and the theme of breast cancer started to seep through everything I did. Unbeknown to me it became a form of therapy – a way of coping emotionally.

For the past five years after my mastectomy for breast cancer I have explored the emotional struggle. My art works are metaphorical images of this struggle. It has taken the form of paintings, drawings, knitting, felting, crochet, sewing, video performance art and audio. Along the way I learned of other women’s struggles; my artwork also tells a story of their struggle and the emotional upheaval that breast cancer has on a person’s life.

The frustration of not being able to make a knitted breast on my first attempt resembled the frustration I and other women had experienced. The knitted mistake hints at the emotional upheaval – of falling apart, becoming unravelled and turned inside. Trying desperately to recreate what was once there.

alyson 1

I created a knitted breast modelled on my own breast size. It was important for me to come to this resolution; it reflects my own acceptance of breast cancer, mastectomy, breast reconstruction and ongoing monitoring.

Alyson 2

The lone breast represented the body part lying in a laboratory. It was needle felted, a process of poking and prodding, similar to the way a patient feels poked and prodded.

Alyson 3

Alyson 3A

Alyson 3B

When the doctor told me that my breast was in a laboratory it set me in a spin; part of me was 100 kilometres away sitting on a cold stainless steel tray. I also found an article about a woman who asked for her amputated breast so that she could bury it – as a way of finding some sort of closure. This inspired my work Mastectomy Memory a performance art using textile art, disolvable paper and poetry.

Alyson 4

“Mastectomy Memories Verse” 2012
Extracts from Poetry written by Alyson Baker during Drawing Investigations

All through the night
And all through the day
A ghost walks with me
Like a shadow on my way

A past never to remain
A moment in time
In an instant erased
A concept of mine

How easy it is to reflect
On memories of old
A diversion to confronting
Emotions that unfold

How is it possible?
How can it be?

That my lover can no longer kiss
This place that I miss

What sense does it make
From knotted pieces of string
Metaphorically told
In poetic rhyming

A ceremony yet not candle lit
A cup empty where a breast would sit

The seasons come and go
And yet I am still here today
And through the haze
Creativity will raise

So hide in the shadow
Or dance in the light
Shrouded in darkness
Or dipped in sunlight

Where there is life
There will be hope

Now my greatest fear now goes beyond any expectation that it may return. I have a daughter and a family connection to breast cancer. Mum, Grandma and I all have had breast cancer; my Grandma passed away at 41 leaving three children. Mum and I were lucky enough to survive. My husband’s mum was not so lucky, she passed away in her 40s leaving Tom, Andrew and Ann without a mother. As a parent I would do anything that I could to spare my own child from this horrible disease.

My future work will be explored during my Honours in 2015 where I highlight the innovative research being funded through the National Breast Cancer Foundation which does not seem to have met with much media attention. Nanotechnology presents the best hope. Ultimately through this research treatment will be individualised, more effective and less invasive. The aim is for zero deaths from Breast Cancer by 2030. To help achieve this goal please donate to NBCF.


  1. Lays on thank you for sharing your story and your art work. Your poem gave me chills. Even though my cancer isn’t breast, I could relate in so many ways.


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