Great Yarmouth Mother and daughter find the healing power of art

Mother and daughter artists Sharon and Cheryl Roach.Picture: James Bass

Mother and daughter artists Sharon and Cheryl Roach.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

A talented mother and daughter who suffered life-threatening brain aneurysms within four years of each other are recovering through the healing powers of art.

An example of artist Sharon Roach's work.

An example of artist Sharon Roach's work. - Credit: Archant

Sharon and Cheryl Roach who both studied at Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design have found that art has helped them through the most traumatic events in their lives.

Photographic and television model Cheryl Roach from Hopton collapsed in a Yarmouth shop in the arms of her mother Sharon with a devastating brain aneurysm - a ballooning of blood vessels - the day after her 32nd birthday in January 2009.

'I had gone into town to spend my birthday money,' she recalled. 'I died in the ambulance and didn't respond to shock treatment so they injected adrenalin straight into my heart. The paramedic said it was the worst day of her life.'

Rushed to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge she was given only 48 hours to live. She underwent eight hours of open brain surgery and remained in a coma on a life support machine for four and a half weeks.

Dancer, a digital print by artist and model Cheryl Roach.

Dancer, a digital print by artist and model Cheryl Roach. - Credit: Archant

When she was discharged several weeks later the vibrant mother of two who had performed in dance videos and TV commercials couldn't walk or lift her six-year-old autistic son. She was confined to a wheelchair with disturbed vision, problems with her memory, and numbness in her arms.

Sharon lived with her for two months to help with her children Ashleigh, then 13, and Leo.

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Cheryl said: 'Everything was affected. I had to start again. We started making cards together as therapy which led to me thinking about taking up art.'

Cheryl, who had been working as a garden designer, embarked on a Foundation Studies Course in Art and Design at Great Yarmouth College in the September. But just three weeks into her course a check-up revealed the bleeding had not stopped and she had to endure two more brain operations within that same year.

Artist and model Cheryl Roach.

Artist and model Cheryl Roach. - Credit: Archant

Although she is now on a lot of medication to keep the headaches at bay, she went on to get a degree in Commercial Art and Design and a BA Hons in Arts Practice in 2013.

To celebrate Cheryl's recovery Sharon and Cheryl staged a mother-and-daughter art exhibition in Yarmouth Library in March 2013.

But just two months after the exhibition Sharon herself suffered a similar life-threatening brain aneurysm in a terrible coincidence while going on holiday, which has left her with no feeling in her left side.

'All I wanted after waking up in Ipswich hospital were pens and paints to see if I could still draw, because I felt, if I could, I could heal myself, ' said Sharon. 'I had to learn to draw all over again.'

She continued to draw daily, and donated some of her work to the Ipswich and James Paget Hospital therapy units, where she was a patient, to encourage other stroke sufferers.

'I felt I was not only healing myself but helping to heal other people,' explained Sharon. 'Using the creative side of the brain helps you slowly recover. It's taken me a long while and I still have some way to go to get as good as I used to be. But I know it has worked for me.'

Sharon's work is prolific. Since her brain aneurysm she has filled 20 books with thousands of drawings creating a vivid pictorial diary depicting her slow but sure recovery.

Working in a mixture of media, from acrylics, enamels, water colours, pen and ink and wax, her work is vibrant, intricate and impressionist. She often manipulates her drawings with different colours on her phone to create special effects and loves working in fashion design.

Sharon, a single mother of three, has used art from a very young age to help her through life's crises, and she wants to inspire other people to do the same.

Always a loner, she was diagnosed with dyslexia, suffered from a lack of confidence and turned to art as a way of expressing herself.

'Because I lacked confidence I never spoke much so art was the only way I could express who I was and what I was thinking,' said Sharon, now 57.

Her first taste of tragedy was when her builder father was electrocuted on a Kessingland building site in front of her 16-year-old brother, when she was just ten years old.

'Since losing my dad I have always used art to help me survive mentally and physically,' she said. 'Every time I create a painting I feel better and get rid of a lot of negative issues.'

Her family then moved from Lowestoft to Yarmouth where Sharon excelled in art at the Hospital School to such an extent her art teacher wanted to keep some of her work for himself, including sketches of Lacons Brewery and the Lydia Eva steam drifter, saying they would appreciate in value!

Sharon married at 16, had three children by the time she was 21 and was divorced at 23. After working in Johnson & Sons clothing factory as a machinist, as a sales assistant at the Co-op and at Erie Electronics as a solderer, she gave up work to raise her family single handed.

When they left home and to fill a big gap in her life she took the bold step, at the age of 46, of taking a Foundation Art and Design Diploma at Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design for which she got a merit.

'I wanted to know more about the art world and it made me explore and discover myself more,' she said.

Since then her life has again been punctuated by tragedy with the death of her mother and Cheryl's brain aneurysm in 2009, a car crash, from which Sharon took two years to recover, in 2011, the death of her brother from kidney failure in 2012 and her own brain aneurysm the following year.

Each time Sharon's creative talents have come to the rescue and her Great Yarmouth home is a treasure trove of art forms each categorising her emotions, feelings and perceptions throughout her life. She has also taken up writing to share her experiences on facebook to 'inspire others not to give up on themselves.' Her story has attracted 800 'likes'.

'Art has been my salvation all my life, whatever I have gone through,' explained Sharon, who now has a partner, Phillip Jackson. 'It has picked me back up and put me back on track. Art is my life story. We still have a long way to travel and many more things to capture in our art. But if our journey can inspire others it would be awesome.'

Now Cheryl is modelling again and draws inspiration from the poses for her own figurative art in which she uses body paints and digital tools to create sculptures on canvas of her own body.

'After the aneurysm I had to do something more calming, less stressful and something which I really loved. I painted my whole body, colour on black like a tribal effect, then lay on the canvas to get an imprint using my body as the medium. It was the highlight of our exhibition.'

Since then Cheryl has completed a teaching assistant course and volunteers at the GFS (Girls Friendly Society) Platform in Yarmouth which offers opportunities to girls and young women to pursue their aspirations and to grow in confidence and self-esteem.

'I'm able to show them how to turn a negative into a positive and that no matter what happens you can still be happy and turn your life around,' said Cheryl. 'Don't worry about the small things because you don't know what's round the corner. Life's too short to worry. Appreciate what you have and make the most of it. You have to grasp every opportunity.'

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