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But a stroke is also a mind injury. I felt God was angry with me because before my stroke I had not been a full-time performer. In my thoughts I became the underdog in need of compassion. I felt I had to narrate my story for understanding if I were to heal. So I worked on developing narratives for my family and friends. I became immersed in my artistry as part of my healing. I heard drums in my mind and I danced to them, holding onto the bed for support.
Although my stroke happened 10 years ago, physical therapy continues. My right side is still rather numb. I cannot feel much from my knees to the soles of my right foot. I'm unable to drive regularly because I have difficulty feeling the accelerator, I walk everywhere I can, taking stairs instead of elevators.
Yet there have been gifts in the journey. My storytelling has shifted into a focus on healing. Stories about my miraculous healing and recovery intrigue my audiences. I am deluged with requests to tell them to stroke patients and their families.
I empower my patients by giving them choices in the stories I present. I take the patient on the trip asking them to use their imagination, which helps if their creative juices are not flowing. My stories free my patients to tell their own, which helps them face their own fears.
Patients ask me how I am able to dance in the lobby of a hospital at 9 in the morning. It is simply that I enjoy myself. In Liberia, we let the stories come alive in the telling. Everyone is an artist because art in Africa is not a commercial enterprise; it is a way of life.
In the spring of 2004, I visited a patient with breast cancer at Howard University Hospital, Her back was turned to me. I asked how she was feeling.
"Great," she said. "I am preparing to go roller skating. Would you like to join me?"
"I don't have any roller skates," I replied, playing along with her.
"Don't worry," she said. "Look downstairs near the kitchen door and you'll find a pair."
I told her I found them, and she said, "Let's go!"
She turned around laughing, for she had turned the tables on me! I spent the next hour and a half in pure ecstasy listening to this 78-year old native Washingtonian take me on an oral stories tour. She was stunning!
When I asked her for the source of her tales, she said they came from "under the table." You see, as children, she and her siblings would hide under the dining room table and listen to adult conversations.
I felt Spirit-moved to apply her "under the table" theme to a program involving cancer patients, caregivers and health professionals with storytelling. The resulting two-hour storytelling grant-funded workshops reached more than 3,000 people, presenting storytelling and laughter as healing tools, promoting support groups, and organizing settings where participants felt empowered to tell their stories.
I'm now in my fourth residency as a member of Smith Farm's team of artists-in-residence. Here I engage patients, caregivers and medical providers in creative art expression as part of the healing process, passing on what I have learned through my own life story
I tell them: Craft your personal story for yourself and others. Repeat it as often as you can. Be compassionate with yourself. Acknowledge and even embrace your pain. Cry when you feel like it. Laughter is good medicine. Laugh as often as you can. Above all, engage your mind, body and spirit in the creative process as part of your healing.

Vera Oye Yaa-Anna, affectionately known as Auntie Oye, is executive producer of a West African dinner theatre, Palaver Hut. She teaches personal narrative to youth and adults through storytelling, dance, music, theatre and cuisine, transforming performance settings into West African villages. Her focus on storytelling as a healing art extends to her work as an artist-in-residence at Smith Farm, a health, education and arts organization for those affected by serious illness.

tags: story narrative vera oye yaa anna washington dc usa liberia healing stroke palaver hut patients under the table laughter creative process auntie oye

For more information, use the contact form or call Vera at 202-773-5446.

You are invited to call for the Storytelling Workshop for Cancer Patients and their Care Givers. Besame’ – thank you!

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