Lancaster artist returns with restaurant exhibition after breast cancer treatment

Hilli McManus with a piece of her artwork in Pizza Margherita. Photo by Darren Andrews
Hilli McManus with a piece of her artwork in Pizza Margherita. Photo by Darren Andrews

Artist and designer Hilli McManus is better known for her theatre and community arts work, but after a breast cancer diagnosis in 2016 and a right breast mastectomy with reconstruction, things have had to change dramatically.

Artist and designer Hilli McManus is better known for her theatre and community arts work, but after a breast cancer diagnosis in 2016 and a right breast mastectomy with reconstruction, things have had to change dramatically.

Three years on, and three years clear of cancer, it is only now that Hilli has a level of energy or confidence to return to her life as an artist.

And she now has an exhibition at Pizza Margherita in Lancaster, with five per cent of the money raised from sales going to CancerCare.

“CancerCare have been a vital component in my recovery when the first emotional crash hit after surgery,” she said. “Both surgery and reconstruction were successfully performed at Westmorland General Hospital by an incredibly skilled and caring team at the RLI. The emotional fallout was devastating at first, and thanks to CancerCare services, I received several highly professional counselling sessions at Slynedales.

“As a freelance artist of some 30 years, I had no work to return to, I have to create my own. The energy and focus required to make work happen, simply wasn’t there and I had developed a severe form of hormonal migraine, focus and concentration had left the building, along with my confidence in mind and body. I’d ceased to function as the ‘me’ I’d always known.

“I crashed out again, mentally, it seemed hopeless and I could not find out how to get back to my work, it has never been a hobby, being an artist is who I am and how I have earned a crust for 30 years.

“Stuck on benefits and burned out, it was clear I needed more help, in the form of counselling again, but also in the form of a dedicated employment support officer. With careful advice from both, I’ve had to – and I’m glad I’ve had to – make the decision not to return to my theatre work.

“It is too intense, frenetic, often heavy and never less than a 50 hour week with low pay, up 40ft scaffolds or 8ft ladders. With my brain fog and distorting migraines layered on top of a mastectomy, I was trying to get back to the wrong place in my head.

“The guidance from the professionals at CancerCare has helped me come to a better decision, one that I can sustain in the most part, so I don’t kill myself trying.

“Unfortunately in January I shattered my ankle after slipping on slabs on the Bath Mill estate and have osteoporosis in my lower spine, so I’ve been reduced to a blubbering wreck again, except this time I have the tools to make the right decisions for ME and my continued mental and physical health. That decision is to be careful, I am very changed, I’m not the powerhouse of energy I was, but that’s ok because I’m doing my own thing now. The deadlines I have are my own and I can move them around when I’m struggling a bit.

“I was an opposite neighbour of Pizza Margherita for 28 years, and I was offered this exhibition upstairs in their gallery last year.

“It’s taken three months to produce the paintings, carefully limiting my time so I don’t cause myself any more pain! So it’s taken three and a half years for me to actually start finding my feet in my world again, but it’s a good start and the changes brought on by the effects of breast cancer are now ones I can embrace in my work life.

“October is breast cancer awareness month, so please, just check your breasts regularly and look for any changes. See your GP straight away with any concerns. I did exactly that and I’m still here and doing fine.”

Park Mist at Pizza Margherita runs until January 2020.