Art to Cope with Cancer

The dreaded C needs no introduction. A simple scientific explanation would be that it is a disease where a couple of abnormal cells that are inside the body divide uncontrollably and destroy the remaining body tissues and slowly spread to other parts of the body and vital organs thereby making it difficult for the proper functioning of the body. But this is not what it is all about.

Cancer is a disease that involves radiotherapy, chemotherapy, countless surgeries and years of treatment with side effects that can take years to heal from; which is the medical aspect of this disease. A few of the physical impacts include a body beaten by treatments, a weakened immune system and in some cases immobility. A broken confidence, lack of self esteem and motivation and a life that is paused and put on hold can effect the mental well-being of the patient and the family alike.

Awareness About The Disease:

Cancer can be fought. Cancer can be cured if detected at an early stage. Cancer Screening tests help to detect the disease at an early stage which increases the likelihood of a successful treatment. It is a deadly illness but it’s not something that one can curse themselves for. Cancer can happen to anyone and there is no specific reason as to why the disease triggers in a person.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating good food, doing good deeds and investing in self growth by indulging in some hobbies or exercise of self-awareness and gratitude helps a long way.

However, for those who have had to face the disease, the first step towards recovery is to develop a positive mindset which is not easy but is not impossible. Living with acceptance and not in denial helps a long way.

The stress of a health crisis and coping with the painful treatment can be very challenging. But having financial stress also along with the stress of being unwell can take a toll and slow down the recovery of a person. Not all cancer patients have enough funds to support their medication and treatment. And this is a huge challenge.

There is a lack of awareness of the disease, the symptoms, missing out on early screening and even having a good health or medical insurance to support them during the treatment phase. A good Health Insurance which provides complete coverage for even diseases like Cancer can be a huge support during the phase of treatment.

Impact Of Cancer:

The diagnosis of the disease involves a phase that could be very difficult to come to terms with where the person and the family involved could find it very difficult to process the information, understand the medical condition, terms and the uncertainty that is associated with it.

The phase of treatment impacts body image and takes the self esteem of the individual to a complete low. The continual hospital visits round the clock, side effects and other health problems that creep up can be challenging for the patient and for the care-givers alike.

The Recovery phase is one that involves a lot of wait and watch periods, continual visits for tests until declared cancer-free and also a long period of recuperation to go back to normalcy post treatment.

There are strong emotions that patients have to deal with while fighting cancer. And expressing these feelings in words are always difficult. This is where any form of Expressive Arts comes into the picture. Drama, Play, Dance, Music and Art are the five Expressive Arts that help in the holistic well-being of an individual. With the physical limitations that come with treatments, getting involved in any sort of activity based hobbies becomes a challenge. That is how Music and Art being more sedentary is easier to practise and cultivate as a hobby when there are limitations to moving around.

How Does Art Heal?

There is no evidence of Art being of help in treating a medical condition. However, Art is considered to be a holistic approach to therapy and healing amidst the tension of cancer treatments. A simple art exercise provides a quiet opportunity for relaxation and diffusing built up emotions. Art being a form of self expression helps to process uncertainty, come to terms with identity and body image and facilitates emotional expression. Art activities are basically a channel to connect with the inner-self or the sub-conscious which helps one become more aware of the self thereby encouraging inner growth through discovery and acceptance. In patients and mainly children, Art helps to reduce anxiety, depression, pain and improves the quality of life.

Scientifically, there are claims that expressive art therapy alters hormones and neurotransmitters by changing thought patterns in the brain. Somewhere this helps in changing the perception of pain and can help cope with cancer and its treatment. When Art has an impact on the mind which in turn has an effect on the immune system, it impacts cancer recovery.

Professional Art Therapists harness creativity from patients by allowing them to explore difficult emotions associated with their treatment. Art Therapy Sessions are generally found to be a sort of humanising experience in a completely scientific environment that is completely dominated by medical terminology, procedures, treatments and health professionals. It is noticed that generally this creative process helps to cope with Cancer and helps to heal.

Benefits of Art for Cancer Patients:

  • Creating art helps in reducing anxiety, depression and fatigue that accompanies through the course of Cancer treatment and helps in improved Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being.
  • During Chemotherapy, Art helps as a relaxing and creative outlet to express emotions.
  • Indulging in Art or for that matter any channel of relaxation helps in reducing the need for pain medication and increase in the willingness to use the drugs that help in cancer treatment.
  • A sort of developed awareness of self through indulging in expressive art therapy helps to increase will power and also the pain thresh-hold of patients, which decreases the length of hospitalization and also fastens the recovery.

How Do You Get Started On Your Own?

The Treatment for Cancer can be a very expensive one. And in some cases engaging in therapeutic and holistic sessions for mental well being like Yoga, Counselling or even Music and Art Therapy can be financially challenging. In such cases, as a care giver, one can self-engage in daily art activities as a channel to relax and one can also encourage a patient to take up simple art activities. As a person who is having to deal with the disease, it takes a little to push yourself to do a small art activity and you will see how it does wonders for you.

Get started on your own by finding a comfortable space for yourself in your home: A nice quiet corner to relax. Some people love to listen to some music in the background when they paint. Gather stationery that you have or are comfortable using: pencils, crayons, paints and paper. The one thing that I can say is “JUST START”. You donot have to be an artist and you donot have to have any sort of imagination or plan as to what you want to draw or paint. The most beautiful and expressive part of Art as Therapy is the joy of seeing what unfolds.

A few Therapeutic Exercises that can help Cancer Patients and their care-givers:

  • Colouring requires no prior expertise and is one of the easiest art activity that doesn’t need any professional guidance. The activity of colouring not only increases attention span but also helps in occupying an otherwise idle mind. This activity facilitates the development of patience and tolerance towards pain.
  • Daily Journaling in a small notebook of about the size A5 can help in keeping a person occupied for about half an hour. This is generally an apt time limit to destress thereby not straining the patient. A smaller space also doesn’t overwhelm a beginner at art.
  • Gratitude Journaling helps in developing a positive attitude by helping one acknowledge their blessings.
  • Drawing simple sketches like sceneries or nature helps individuals feel a sense of openness or freedom while they are actually confined in a room or hospitalized during their treatment.

If you would like to check a few of the simple art journalling stationery products that I use, you can check out this Idea List on Amazon:

ART JOURNALLING by Shantha Prabhu:


Art Therapy practice is not a cure to any disease or medical condition like Cancer. Medication and following treatment as prescribed by health professionals is very important for cure. Art Therapy is only a Complementary therapeutic approach to help ease out any negative emotion and bring about positivity.

The content in this blog provides only generic information. It is not a substitute for a qualified medical opinion. It is always advisable to consult your specialist or doctor for more information.



  • I would like to thank Dr. Prathima Rao, Oncology Expert, Mangalore Institute of Oncology for her valuable time, inputs and for proof-reading the article before posting it.
  • I am grateful for the inputs from Mrs. Arathi S. Prabhu, Insurance Advisor, HDFC Ergo.

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