How art therapy can help breast cancer patients

Mary’s story is a reminder that art lets you be yourself, and expressing yourself creatively is truly healing

Women who have had breast cancer have different ways of coping with their diagnosis, and there are those who use creativity as a salve for their emotions. Some discover journalling as an outlet for their thoughts. Others take up painting or sculpture, create quilts, write or play music, or take classes in photography. Whatever they choose, these women find that creative therapy for breast cancer patients can be truly healing.


A diagnosis of breast cancer is a soul-searching journey, and for many women who receive proper support, a healthy recovery includes some form of artistic healing. One of the most popular types is painting — the ultimate art therapy. It has a way of pulling what’s inside you out. It is a state of vulnerability for the artist. The viewer can almost read the soul of the survivor.


No-one knows this better than Mary Carroll Moore. Mary is a writer, teacher and an artist. She is also a breast cancer survivor. “After my chemotherapy, I was so happy to be alive and healing,” says Mary. “But the months went by and I noticed that I had much healing to do still on the inside. A friend encouraged me to look at what I loved most in my life, especially things I had put aside for lack of time. I made a list of 25 things I loved, and ‘art’ came up over and over.


“I had studied painting at college but put art aside for more practical things. A friend introduced me to pastels, encouraging me to just play with the colours, and I was hooked. I remembered why I loved art so much. As I began to paint regularly, the inner parts of myself that had been damaged by the cancer—my trust, hope and joy in life—began to heal too.”


Taking art therapy to another level
“Although I had studied painting at college with different teachers, it wasn’t until 1999, when I began studying pastel painting, that I really understood the power of colour and light. I became a student of ‘full-colour seeing’, attending classes with teacher and artist Susan Sarback at The School of Light and Colour in Fair Oaks, California.”


As Mary learned, art therapy can give breast cancer patients an outlet for their complicated emotions during treatment, recovery and even beyond their breast cancer experiences. Now, she is showing her artwork — the same studies of light that inspired her during her recovery — around the U.S.


“I work on a special kind of pastel paper that allows me to build up many layers of colour, to create a glow of light coming from within the painting. My paintings are done from still-life set-ups in my studio or landscapes en plein air; I find the colour truer than working from photographs.”


Mary’s artwork has been in many shows in the U.S., both group and individual exhibits, and several paintings have won awards.


Find the creative expression that works for you
There are many creative outlets, and art is just one. You might consider music therapy, poetry, writing stories, dance or pottery. The point is to make a choice. Doing something creative with your energy really helps your mental wellbeing. While your hands work on the art, your mind works out its thoughts naturally.


“Besides art, I sing in a small vocal group and write short stories,” continues Mary. “I’m even working on a novel. The arts — all of them — are just one outlet for healing after cancer. The most important thing is to find what you love and make sure there’s time and space in your life to do it. This is what heals us the most.”


If you have found art therapy beneficial as a breast cancer patient, we would love to hear about it. Please share your story with us in social media or by submitting it here