The process of being diagnosed and treated for cancer can leave a patient and their families in a whirlwind of emotions. I know this to be true because I experienced this first hand in 2016 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 24. There was no history of cancer in my family so this was all new to us. After being diagnosed, I knew this would change my life forever. However, I promised myself to try and keep a positive outlook.
Keeping this attitude was easier said than done. For the roughly two weeks in between being diagnosed and staged, I was anxious and could not help but think the worst. In order to cope, I started drawing. I have been drawing since childhood, so I naturally gravitated to scribbling in my journal in order to express my emotions. Being creative helped distract my mind from negative thoughts. This was my first experience with using art as a form of therapy. Exploring colors and creating art gave me a sense of accomplishment and purpose in times of uncertainty.
Thankfully my cancer was caught at an early stage, so I was provided with somewhat of a relief. Though, I realized this was only the beginning of my journey and the hardest parts were yet to come. I felt afraid from what treatment was going to do to my body. I did not realize it at the time, but creating art helped me conquer those fears. Drawing and painting were the best unintentional mindfulness training I have ever done. It then slowly dawned on me that creating art is a form of healing. I instantly felt better after creating something; no matter how big or small. It gave me a sense of power in a situation where I was left feeling vulnerable. With drawing, I had the ability to express things on paper that I could not necessarily verbalize. It was clear that drawing and painting were helping me get better. That made me think of other cancer patients, especially children, and how making art would help them heal mentally. Facilitating a space for kids to play with all sorts of mediums gives them a chance to express their emotions with no judgment, allowing the child to truly express the wide variety of emotions evoked by having to fight cancer.
When I went back to school for my last semester, I took a community arts class so I could possibly help cancer patients through creativity. Through research, I found Kids & Art and immediately knew I wanted to be a part of this organization. I have been volunteering periodically for a year now, and it has been an amazing experience. An important moment for me was when after a workshop ended, a father came up to me holding back tears and told me that this was the first appointment where his daughter was smiling and not afraid. He said it was because of the art she was able to make beforehand. That instantly made me want to continue to volunteer. Even after attending multiple workshops, I still get that same feeling of joy when I see kid smiling and making art with their families. The hospital workshops are a small but impactful way to help heal a child and put them at ease in a setting where they generally feel uncomfortable.