Art Is Therapy for Cancer Survivors


A cancer survivor describes her rocky road to learning a new art form to help her heal.

I obviously love writing, but hate doing artwork of any other kind. It all goes back to my teachers in grade school. I had a young art teacher tell me I wasn’t talented like my sibling, and I needed to color between the lines. On the other hand, I had an English teacher who told me I had a gift for writing. Enough said.

It wasn’t until I became older when I realized that writing was therapeutic for me. After my mother died and then my upsetting cancer diagnosis, I immersed myself into my writing. Happier times also inspired me. When I received my gorgeous service dog, I wrote a picture book and several articles on her.

There is something to be said about putting my thoughts down on paper. Most writers type their articles and books on a computer. I write my first draft in longhand. The words flow freely from my brain to my hand to the paper and then to the computer screen. I know this is my art form.

I recognize that music is a wonderful art form for healing. But with my limited hearing, I can’t enjoy this much as most people. However, when I travel alone, I turn the car radio on high and an uplifting song never ceases to inspire me.

But anything with drawing, watercolors or paint scares me to death.

Therefore, I was hesitant when my personal trainer and friend at the Livestrong program at my local YMCA asked me to attend a new venture at the local art museum. I honestly did it as a favor to her. I explained I couldn’t do art — period. She assured me the medium used would be easy and that I didn’t need to be a great artist!

Reluctantly, I entered the classroom a few days later. First, we took a tour of the museum. The display being showcased was on football around the country. I was thrilled because I love sports, but I dreaded sitting down to do the art project and wanted to skip to the lunch part.

We did a project called alcohol art. No, it is not drinking wine while doing artwork, which I would have enjoyed! Rather it was pouring special inks on paper treated with rubbing alcohol.

Then the ink was used to create the illusion. We could dabble, blow on the ink, color around the edges or do anything we wanted. The two art therapists, who were our leaders, were extremely encouraging.

I didn’t get off to an auspicious beginning because I got more ink on my fingers than on the paper. I went over to the sink groaning to myself. I knew this would be a mistake. I spent 10 minutes trying to get the ink off my fingers. I didn’t believe the therapists when they said the bright ink would eventually come off. I hoped this would get me out of the project, but they chose to ignore me.

I sullenly went back to my picture. I began to work on it, and the colors mesmerized me. I dabbled, blew on the paper and watched the pictures form. I felt like a child again. This time I was not being forced to stay within the lines! The leaders gave me a second sheet of paper and I started working on that one. They showed me how to do multimedia with my art, and helped me cut and paste my results.

When we were finished, the results stunned me. The entire group had done wonderful work. The leader suggested that since my artwork was bright and colorful with lots of balloons, maybe I was signifying happiness. I looked at her in amazement since she was right.

We talked among ourselves about some of the ordeals we had been through with the cancer, and shared tears of understanding and pain. We were survivors.

We did eventually get lunch and were done in two hours. We were all asked if we felt this was a helpful session. We mentioned that this activity helped us forget our cancer for a while. This is an important step to healing.

The YMCA asked our permission to temporarily put the artwork on display. If they had asked me in the beginning, I would have been embarrassed and said no. However, I was proud of my two pieces of work and agreed.

All of art can be healing, ranging from music, to drawing to writing. Go and partake in a new activity no matter what the medium, because you may be better at it than you think. I guarantee you will have fun along the way!

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