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March 19th, 2015

What Do Surviving a Tsunami and Surviving Cancer Have in Common?

By In the Loop

Doing sashiko in Mayo's Cancer Education CenterWhen we think about recovering from a serious illness, we tend to think about things like rest and recuperation, medication regimens, dietary changes, support from family and friends. We might not think about embroidery. Or button-making. Or making embroidered buttons. But a unique class offered this week at Mayo's Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer Education Center in Rochester is keeping hands and minds busy … in the name of resiliency and healing.

It's called sashiko. And it's one of the creative arts that helped the Japanese people begin their recovery after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the island nation in 2011. The catastrophe killed more than 15,000 people, with many others injured and missing. At least 332,395 buildings were destroyed or damaged, and even today, nearly a quarter million people remain displaced. How does someone cope with such overwhelming circumstances? Could Mayo Clinic patients, particularly cancer patients, gain insight into resiliency from their experience?

Those questions were on the minds of the folks at the Cancer Education Center as they looked at the work of Japan's Otsuchi Sashiko Project and Senninbari Project. Representatives of those organizations were in Rochester this week for an exhibit titled, Surviving Tsunami Waves – The Exhibition of Resilience through Arts and Narrative, which began on March 11, the anniversary of the tsunami. The exhibit at Mayo, in the Hage Atrium, Siebens Building, continues through Friday and shares the stories of the residents in Tohoku, Japan, and their artistic work of sashiko, which served as a source of resilience and healing. The exhibit is sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine.

The sashiko button-making classes at Mayo's Cancer Education Center began with a video about how the Japanese people have worked to overcome the challenges they faced. The original purpose of sashiko stitches was to add strength to cloth, which parallels what the Cancer Education Center is trying to teach patients about resilience. "Resilience won't make your problems go away — but it can give you the ability to see past them," says patient educator Tammy Adams. The center offered the sashiko workshop to help patients learn new ways to "find enjoyment in life and better handle stress."

Mayo Clinic patient Judi Fouladbakhsh of Rochester Hills, Michigan, took one of the classes and says it brought her back to when she used to do other needlework. "I haven't done crewelwork for long time, but this is similar," she says. "It's nice to be able to work with my hands and focus on the creativity."

Learn more about sashiko and the exhibit in this report. Then bring focus to our work by sharing your comments below and sharing this story with others.

Tags: Cancer Education Center, Employee Stories, Patient Stories, Resilience

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