Close your eyes for a moment and think about a piece of art that calms your mind. Maybe it’s a classic impressionist painting or perhaps it’s a black and white photograph that evokes a pleasant memory. Art takes on many forms and can be extremely therapeutic for cancer patients and their caregivers to engage in an artistic process either by observation or actually creating their own piece of art during the most stressful of times. Dr. Bill Levin, a radiation oncologist at Penn Medicine explains how art can have be a positive and therapeutic outlet for many patients and their caregivers: “As a photographer, I spend time looking at lighting and how to best capture the essence of the subject(s) I am photographing. I find it so therapeutic after a long day or week to take my camera and start photographing what is around me. I love taking candid photos of my children and I really enjoy working with light in nature. For me, it’s a form of meditation that I find incredibly calming.” (see some of Dr. Levin’s photography below)
Many cancer centers are incorporating art therapy programs to improve the patient experience. This is a trend that Dr. Levin would like to see grow as it is helpful to provide patients and caregivers with an outlet such as art therapy to balance their very stressful lives. He cites the experience of sitting in a radiation oncology waiting room every day. “I see patients all of the time who are in our waiting room every day for many weeks. Wouldn’t it be great if they could participate in an art project while waiting or listen to a soothing piece of music or even have a virtual tour of a local museum?” All of these are possible at our center, as Penn’s Department of Radiation Oncology is starting to develop a Healing Arts program designed to bring the arts to patients and caregivers within the Department.
There are many ways you can access the healing power of art during the course of treatment and beyond. Here are some ideas:
- Use your phone’s camera or a regular good old fashioned camera to document your story. Don’t be too attached to how you will piece it together. Maybe pick things that inspire you during the course of your day and photograph them. Put them together in an album so that you can look at them when you need inspiration.
- Buy a blank notebook and sketch away. Bring some colored pencils with you to treatment and sketch out whatever you happen to be feeling that day.
- Writing is a great form of artistic expression. Keep a journal of your experiences. Build your own personal narrative.
- Put together a play list of music that speaks to you. Inquire if you are able to listen to it during treatment while using headphones during chemotherapy infusions or asking the radiation therapists to play your musical selections while you are being treated. Or, just listen to your play list during your commute to and from treatment. Music can be very soothing and inspiring.
- If you are feeling well enough, visit a local art museum. Even for a brief time, walking through a collection of art can be very soothing to the soul.
- Personalize the binder you carry to appointments by making a collage of the images that inspire you most.
- Create your own “vision board” to include words, sayings and images that you find meaningful. You can find these images in magazines or online and simply paste in a collage on a poster board. Keep it handy to look at when you need a little “pick me up.”
- Remember that art comes in many forms and is personal. Be sure to find what is soothing for you.