There are multiple facets to the cancer journey: the physical, the mental and the spiritual. While our doctors and care teams are often focused on the physical — developing the treatment plans that will be most effective in slowing and stopping the disease — other needs can be neglected.
Exercise, good nutrition, counseling and prayer are now widely viewed as effective ways to enhance and even accelerate the cancer treatment and recovery process. However, creative expression has not received as much attention. There is mounting evidence that both our mental and spiritual health can be improved through creative expression.
How art can help
Group activity or individual pursuit, painting or photography, poetry or music — artistic expression has the power to alleviate our stress from cancer treatment, make us feel part of a community, help us express how we feel and inspire hope, all while honoring our cancer journey. By offering opportunities to engage in the arts and creative expression, people with cancer can mourn, grieve, celebrate life, be empowered to endure their situation and find healing and meaning.
Sierra Nevada Cancer Center (SNCC) has participated in the Lilly Oncology on Canvas program that pharmaceutical company Lilly began in 2004 as a way for cancer patients, caregivers and all those affected by cancer to share their stories. Dr. Perez recognizes the various ways artistic expression can help his patients. “Creating art provides a mental break from the stress of cancer,” he explains. “For a few hours, cancer is not your only thought. Art also provides an outlet for expressing feelings about cancer and treatment that the patient may not be able to otherwise articulate.”
The science behind art & cancer
The Art for Cancer Foundation has assembled an impressive collection of studies that show the positive impact of creative expression on the quality of life of cancer patients.
To highlight a few studies:
- The Ankara Numune Education and Research Hospital in Ankara, Turkey studied the effects of painting and music classes on 100 cancer patients during chemotherapy treatment. The study revealed that stress hormones and anxiety levels of patients decreased after art activities.
- A 6-month study at a regional cancer treatment center tested the effect of creative arts intervention on family caregivers of cancer patients. It was revealed that the arts promoted short-term well-being and increased positive communication with cancer patients and health care providers.
- A Swedish randomized, controlled study of 41 women with breast cancer who took party in weekly art therapy sessions showed there was an overall increase in coping resources after taking part in the art therapy.
While writing a poem about chemotherapy will not shorten treatment and painting about the fear of recurrence may not make those fears go away, these creative expressions can play an important and vital role. With pen and paint we have the power to reduce stress, empower those who may feel powerless, inspire hope and generally improve quality of life for patients and their community.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and are searching for a team to help you on the journey, contact Sierra Nevada Cancer Center and Dr. Perez. We are here to help guide you through your treatment and recovery.