Use Art to Express Yourself During Breast Cancer Treatment

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • How often in your cancer journey have words failed you?  I’m an English teacher, so I have a high regard for the power of words to express the jumbled emotions of coping with serious illness as patient or caregiver.  But sometimes there are no words.  That’s when I tend to go to bed and pull the covers over my head.


    Other people pick up a chunk of clay and start molding, or sit down at the piano and compose, or pull down the blinds and begin dancing.  The act of creating gives them a powerful outlet for all of those confused feelings—no words needed or even wanted.


    I was at my parents’ home when I first saw a clip of a contemporary dance performed by Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi on So You Think You Can Dance We were watching The View, and the panel was talking about how they were moved to tears.  Later I received a link to the whole dance on YouTube, and I watched it at home.   (Note:  The YouTube video is no longer available because of copyright.)

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    There in non-verbal beauty, the tangled emotions of cancer played out in the dance.  The dance was dedicated to a breast cancer survivor friend of choreographer Tyce Diorio, and much has been made about how it shows the journey of breast cancer, but I saw it as a dance that fits any cancer experience.  Anger and triumph leapt across the stage.


    As audience members or as dancers, we can sort through the surging emotions of cancer without words.  In fact, as I was researching this article, I learned that there is a complementary cancer therapy called dance therapy.  The American Cancer Society describes dance therapy this way.  “Dance therapy is offered as a health promotion service for healthy people, and as a complementary method of reducing the stress of caregivers and people with cancer and other chronic illness. Physically, dance therapy can provide exercise, improve mobility and muscle coordination, and reduce muscle tension. Emotionally, dance therapy is reported to improve self-awareness, self-confidence, and interpersonal interaction, and is an outlet for communicating feelings. Some promoters claim that dance therapy may strengthen the immune system through muscular action and physiological processes and even help prevent disease.


    Dance therapy is based on the belief that the mind and body work together. Through dance, it is thought people can identify and express their innermost emotions, bringing those feelings to the surface. Some people claim this can create a sense of renewal, unity, and completeness.”


    There is no doubt that dancing is good exercise and that exercise reduces stress and improves muscle tone and heart health.  If your cancer center offers dance therapy, consider signing up for it.  Maybe you would find it a wonderful way to express your emotions.  You can also dance in your living room.  Dancing doesn’t even require a recording.  You can dance to the music in your head.


    Maybe you would rather take a sketch pad or a guitar.   My son Channing picked up his camera and shot a picture of bald cancer survivor Jennifer Nichols holding her baby as she gazes at an array of wigs.  That image stays with me and expresses anguish and hope beyond words.  Use a camera, a paintbrush, a saxophone, your own body.   A wide range of artistic expression awaits you.


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    When you finish pouring out your heart, consider sharing your creative effort with someone else.  Not everyone can dance, paint, sculpt, or compose.  Your non-verbal creation can be a way to share what no one can say.

Published On: July 30, 2009