COPING WITH CANCER 

Diagnosis with an illness like cancer is a catastrophic life event. If the disease happened “out of the blue” to a person void of any harmful habits, the diagnose can also provoke anger of feeling betrayed by one’s own body, shutter his/her world, and undermine overall trust in life (Councill, 2012). Though naming a condition and beginning a treatment offer hope for a cure, the medical environment of oncological hospitals and the numerous invasive procedures that follow are the dreadful experiences to go through leaving permanent ‘emotional scars’. Cancer-related post-traumatic stress (PTS) is often identified in people who have been through cancer with the symptoms very similar to a PTSD and occurring during or after treatments (National Cancer Institute, 2015). In 1994, there was an official clinical recognition that cancer patients may suffer from PTSD due to the trauma of difficult medical experience (Bush, 2009). Even after winning the battle, cancer survivors often report chronic or worsening PTS symptoms with studies reporting that more than 1/3 of survivors experience it (Smith , 2011). The symptoms of prolonged anxiety in cancer patients may get so severe that they interfere with their daily activities (Marlow, 2014). 

Art therapy has been proven helpful to cancer patients at different stages in the course of their illness, but especially during their isolation for bone marrow transplantation, radiotherapy treatment, and after the treatment (Forzoni, 2010). 100% of patients surveyed in 2012 reported the benefits of AT across its effects of reducing anxiety (77.2%), improving communication of difficult feelings (75.6%) and establishing meaningful connections with their loved ones through the artworks produced at AT sessions (36.4%) (Agnese, 2012). Another reason for a high uptake of creative practices by patients facing terminal illnesses is that the practice of unfolding creation serves as an effective medium connecting patients to life (la Cour, 2005).  The 2005 study ascertains that the process of creating can enhance patients’ experience of self as active persons in the face of utter uncertainty of outcomes of their life-threatening illness.  For patients who have conquered the disease, the therapeutic approach is used to find their identity past a survivor label (Bitonte, 2015).

Artist Queenie Coco Bee. Used with permission. 

Efficacy of AT is gaining a momentum in the field of pediatric oncology. Most childhood cancers are diagnosed unexpectedly and without a known cause devastating parents and families of the young children. The hospitalized young patient, surrounded by the sights, smells, sounds, and rhythms of the medical environment, may feel confused, frightened and transplanted into an alien culture (Spinetta & Spinetta, 1981), where a visit from the art therapist who brings art materials and an invitation to draw or paint, instead of needles or pills to swallow, can be instantly comforting to a frightened child. Interaction with an art therapist in the environment overwhelmed with painful and invasive procedures can establish a meaningful link to the life outside the hospital, and provide a concrete way for a child to respond to the hospital experience (Councill, 2012).

The fundamental qualities that make a creative process empowering to children in general, are profoundly normalizing agents for those undergoing medical treatment (Councill, 2012). When an ill child engages in art making, s/he is in charge of the subject and scope of work and materials to be used, which allows for the feeling of control, therefore rebuilding a young patient’s sense of autonomy and competence, offering opportunities for safe and contained expression of his/her innermost feelings. Participating in creative work within the medical setting can help rebuild patients’ sense of self-esteem and hope. When medical AT is included as part of treatment, art expression is used by young patients to communicate their feelings and perceptions, needs and wishes to the care teams (Councill, 2012).

Artist Queenie Coco Bee. Used with permission. 

To medical teams, the approach helps in assessing patients’ strengths and coping styles, as children’s drawings may contain valuable information about how children perceive traumatic events, medical care, and rehabilitation (Chapman, 2011).  Given the mounting evidence on the effectiveness of AT with young cancer patients, it is getting increasingly used with a variety of other pediatric medical populations, including children with kidney disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain and severe burns (Malchiodi, 1999). 

Given the irrefutable evidence for the efficacy of art therapy in the alleviating of traumatic stress symptoms in cancer patients, Pro-Cure Art directs its investments and programmatic efforts to support this group of patients. To help cancer patients cope with their medical diagnosis and treatments, we offer free art therapy services to hospital patients or individuals in active treatment.

 

For patients at the end of their life journeys, we hope to create comforting experience engaged in creative expressions with a trained professional to help them cope and process the inevitable, and create the body of artwork to be left as a legacy to their families and loved ones.

 

For hospitals or individual cancer patients looking for medical art therapy, please contact us to arrange for the services. At this point, we offer services in Washington D.C. metropolitan area, but we plan to expand our services to other states, as we grow.

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