Cancer patient promotes artistic expression’s force

by Asako Murakami

NARA — When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, Yuko Kozono, 40, found people’s reactions somewhat familiar.

Yuko Kozono (left) and Shizuka Morishita participate in a workshop for women with cancer.

At a loss for what to say, people distanced themselves from her, just like when they meet someone with a disability, she said.

“Their reaction comes from the fact they know little about cancer patients,” said Kozono, who has been working closely with disabled people for years.

“I thought we should let ourselves be better known, make people understand that cancer patients are also lively and active and that we’re doing what we want to just like other people.”

So she started thinking about setting up a chorus group for cancer patients.

Based on her experience with a voluntary music group called Wataboshi, which she joined at the age of 16, Kozono has always been a firm believer in the power of arts and music as a means of expression.

Wataboshi activities began in 1973 when Nara-based musicians composed music to poems written by disabled people.

Some 60 Wataboshi concerts are organized across the country every year.

Kozono had long wondered what made disabled people, including those suffering from severe muscular dystrophy, work so hard at writing songs.

Having gone through two years of intensive cancer treatment, however, she said she now knows why.

Having an opportunity to express creativity is an important way to improve your quality of life, Kozono said.

“When I became ill and had to give up many things, what was left was music, which I have been doing since I was in my teens.”

Her initial idea of creating a chorus group has materialized in somewhat different forms: a series of workshops for women with cancer, including a panel discussion and various participatory events, such as dance and gospel lessons.

The Society for the Arts and Healthcare Japan, a Nara-based group promoting the use of arts in health-care services, is the main organizer of the workshops, the first of which was held Friday.

Earlier this year just when Kozono was thinking about organizing a chorus group, some members of the society, whom she had known through her volunteer activities for the disabled, returned from a trip to the United States.

In the U.S., the society members attended an annual international conference on arts in health care and visited several hospitals and communities seeking to integrate arts into health-care settings.

As she heard their reports on the visit, Kozono felt that what she was trying to do was surely a step in the right direction.

Putting their respective ideas together, Kozono and the society members settled on the workshop plan.

While providing an opportunity for women with cancer to express themselves through various workshops, the society also plans to create a network of people extending support for cancer patients. Kozono meanwhile said she would like to see Japan become a society where it is natural for people to support those suffering from illness.

“While there are many patients’ groups, they mainly talk about treatment and medicine. These issues are important, but I thought it would be nice if we could do something different,” she said.