Readers Write: The Healing Power of Art

CURE asked readers: Did you use a form of art to help in your healing during and after cancer? Was it visual, written, musical or some other form of artistic expression?

As a person who works in a creative field every day, the concept of setting aside time for personal, non-client driven art and design took me down a path where the written word became a very important outlet for coming to grips with my stage 3 prostate cancer diagnosis. My journal grew rapidly. And yet after surgery, some six weeks post-diagnosis, I abruptly quit writing. Since then, I have often revisited this incredible diary that represented my life's cataclysmic event. Now, nearly two years after radiation and a year after completion of hormone replacement therapy, it is stunning to see the progress of my journey. The writing may not have helped me heal, per se, but the act of writing clearly established a very well-documented "jumping off" point from my past life to my new life as a cancer survivor. More importantly, it has given me the perspective to go forward as a resource to others in my community who are suffering similarly, but without help.

Steve P.

After my surgery for breast cancer in late 2008, I had an overwhelming urge to do something creative. I had always wanted to learn how to make jewelry, so I immersed myself in "beading." I spent hours just sorting through beads and findings of all types and sizes, finding that it calmed me. I started with simple earrings and bracelets and enjoyed experiencing the colors and textures as much as the creative act itself. Becoming so immersed in my beading definitely helped me cope with my chemo and the many side effects that came along with it.

Sherry N.

I'm a three-year survivor of small cell lung cancer. Yes, I did art during treatment. I had never done it before. I used colored pens and pencils to make drawings on blank greeting cards and used them for “progress report” notes to friends and family. I surprised myself. Each of them was different, and I must admit, really quite good. I received many compliments and felt honored to be able to pass them along.

Karen B.

I found writing about my feelings during and after my three different cancer journeys brought me a sense of peace. I especially found the writing helpful when I was in isolation for treatment of my metastatic thyroid cancer. I was alone. No family or friends were present, and it was one of the loneliest times of my life. Writing about this experience was very helpful in my healing. I was able to express my deepest fears and only I knew what they were. I didn't have to hold back and worry anyone else. Sometimes when I'm fearful, I look back over my writing to see how far I've come since those dark days of despair. It brings me back to reality. I'm still here!

Bobbi de C.

I always thought if I were ill, I would use the time to write a lot of music, but as a breast cancer patient, chemo and radiation exhausted me. However, I continued to teach private music students as long as I could. Just getting out into the studio, focusing on music with them, and doing the best I could to teach was good medicine. I couldn't help lead the singing anymore at church, but I sat in the pews and sang. Those songs seemed to speak hope and healing right to my heart. I had some favorite CDs too that I would sing to and cry with!

Lela S.

Shortly after my cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2005, when they told me I had only two to three years to live, I began making jewelry. When I started my jewelry, I completely forgot that I had cancer. And when I completed something new and received compliments from friends and relatives, I felt truly blessed and went on to the next piece with exhilaration. Today, almost six and a half years later, I am still making beautiful jewelry which is admired by almost everyone that sees it. Although my cancer treatment also included chemo and brain radiation to keep the cancer from spreading there, I believe that making jewelry helped me zone out the fact that I was supposed to be dying.

Kathleen B.

I used a journal with my first bout with breast cancer in 2003, but I re-found knitting to really help with my recovery. I needed to find time each day to knit to calm my mind and spirit and really heal. I continued knitting: gifts for family and friends and chemo caps for cancer patients. When I was diagnosed with a second form of breast cancer in 2009, I already had my support team of doctors in place and my knitting for charity to get me through. We have a wonderful group at our senior center I had joined after retiring, and we knit for charity.

Jill B.

After a successful bone marrow transplant for leukemia in 1993, I yearned to tell my story so my odyssey might benefit others. I started with a memoir, but got bogged down in details. What I wanted to share was hope. After years of struggling with prose, I turned to poetry to capture the essence of each phase of my journey: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, recovery and renewal. It was cathartic to express my experience with the minimalism of poetry. It took a long time, but I finally self published my book, The Journey, via lulu.com in 2007, and sold a few copies with proceeds going to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle where I was treated. Sharing my story was definitely a strong component of physical and spiritual healing from cancer—it inspired me to remain deeply grateful and to acknowledge a larger purpose to my personal experience.

Helen K.

I’m a professional artist who continued to work during the course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments for my breast cancer. It took my focus off of what I was dealing with and allowed me to consider my cancer in the context of being a life experience that I was going through temporarily. Art can take you outside of yourself, and by continuing my work, I wasn’t fixated on the side effects of treatment because I was more concerned about getting back to my studio to create.

Kay R.