With love and light - memorial glass art made in Lancaster

With Love and Light

With Love and Light - Credit: Archant

In the first of our series New Life featuring people who have transformed their lives, Roger Borrell speaks to glass artist Sarah Livingstone.

Sarah working on a piece

Sarah working on a piece - Credit: Archant

It’s not a time many of us would look back on with any sense of fondness. ‘In a nutshell,’ says Sarah Livingstone, ‘I worked many years in the NHS, then got breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, my partner left me and my dog died.’

Yet, four years later here she is, in a village just outside Lancaster, brimming with optimism and talking animatedly about a future she has created thanks to a rather unusual business. She hopes her story might inspire others to take their lives in a new direction.

In fact, of those dark days, she says: ‘I don’t regret it - even the cancer. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’

Sarah, whose father worked in the power generation industry at Heysham, went to high school in Morecambe before studying at the local college of art and design, later specialising in pottery.

Sarah in her Halton Mill workshop

Sarah in her Halton Mill workshop - Credit: Archant

She used her skills to work with children with special needs in South Wales and then closer to home at Silverdale, before joining the NHS as an occupational support therapist in Wigan. ‘I suppose I was quite content,’ she says. ‘I got stuck in a rut without realising it.’

Sarah had always been keen on outdoor life, was a regular runner and passionate about nutrition and healthy eating. That must have made it particularly difficult to come to terms with the fact she had cancer.

She had a double mastectomy in 2013 and followed that up with two sessions of chemotherapy. ‘It wasn’t for me,’ she says. ‘The side-effects were just too severe for me to continue…the extreme nausea, the hair loss. It was a very personal decision but I decided I would rather have a shorter life without the side effects so I declined all further treatment.’

Instead, she sought alternative remedies including apricot kernels, which contain B17, a substance some believe fights cancer. Sarah also used herbal oils she created at home in her slow cooker.

‘I’m also a great believer in positive thinking. If you can rid yourself of the fear of dying I think you are capable of taking massive steps forward.’ At this point, Sarah stresses this worked for her but she has no desire to influence anyone else in the same situation.

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Whether it’s the nuts, the herbs or mind over matter, it seemed to work. ‘I’ll soon be coming up to my five years of being cancer free and I’ve just started fell running. The whole experience has taught me a lot about myself and I’ve become a stronger person. Everything that has happened has set me on a new path and it has been an amazing experience.’

There were bumps along the way. ‘My partner couldn’t cope with it and left me and the love of my life, my 15-year-old dog, died. I was a bit lost at that point.’

During a spell in Cornwall she saw some glass art and decided to teach herself glass cutting. ‘For me it was sink or swim and I decided to swim, although learning to cut glass meant I was often shredding my hands!’

Sarah, whose parents still live in Over Kellet, created decorative pieces but with a twist. Incorporated into the glass is a small quantity of ashes from loved ones – a nearest and dearest or a favourite pet. It took a year of experimenting to perfect the process using ashes from her beloved collie cross Finn. Now she has created a variety of different pieces that are designed to catch the light as the sun strikes them.

Speaking from her workshop in the converted Halton Mill, close to where she lives, Sarah says: ‘The reviews I’ve been getting have been amazing and I’m starting to make a living out of my business.

‘Many people keep ashes because they feel scattering them is so final. Keeping a pinch of ash set in a beautiful glass art piece allows you to remain close to the one you love enabling you to scatter the remaining ashes somewhere meaningful. The light, whether it is natural or from a nightlight brings out the beauty of the glass and these pieces really sparkle making them very special.’

Bereaved people send small packages to Sarah and she seals them in a series of different coloured glass designs, which can include engraved discs and small oak plinths, both made locally. One woman ordered six pieces to share among family members.

‘I like to think my story might motivate people who have cancer to show that they can turn it into a positive,’ says Sarah.

‘If someone had tapped me on the shoulder during those dark days and said I would have my own business, be stronger mentally and happier than ever before I would never have believed them. But anything is possible.’

To find out more about Sarah’s work go to www.withloveandlight.co.uk