Sharon Reynolds

Imagine that feeling of control, creativity, and joy. Cancer doesn’t take that moment away. Cancer takes a backseat while I’m holding the brush.

Using Creativity to Cope with Cancer

Facing a cancer diagnosis during a pandemic can be especially lonely. Through the ups and downs of treatment, I found my energy waning as fatigue came and went. But then a relative suggested I try art again, something I hadn’t done since college.

And that’s how after a 50-year hiatus, cancer brought me back to painting.

It had been so long since I’d picked up a brush. I distinctly remembered loving art, but I no longer had the tools to paint. I decided to enroll in a watercolor painting course at the senior center. I was looking for something to do as I was regaining my physical strength from my first stem cell transplant and to fill the void of recently becoming an empty nester.

Getting back into painting was a little difficult at first. I was used to oil painting, and although the techniques of watercolors are different, they are more forgiving. Not to mention they clean up much easier, which is great since I often make a mess when I paint, getting caught up in a moment of creative frenzy.

It took some time, but between classes at the senior center and following tutorials online, the secrets of watercolors slowly began being revealed. It took practice, practice, and then a little more practice. But I quickly discovered the joy of it. Not to mention what a great outlet it has been during COVID.

When I paint, the world and time disappear. I become totally absorbed. And while watercolors can be challenging, those moments of struggle and disappointment is how we learn. Because there are those moments when what you’re working on magically begins to come together and you can feel it happening. Your creation is actually coming out as you had envisioned.

Imagine that feeling of control, creativity, and joy. Cancer doesn’t take that moment away. Cancer takes a backseat while I’m holding the brush.

My preferred painting style is called “loose.” That entails wetting all or selected areas of the paper/painting and dropping colors into that area and letting them work their magic. When it comes to painting, the subject is not as important to me as color. With that said, I do love to paint flowers, perhaps because of all their beautiful colors. I think the progression of my art reflects my personal growth during this time.

I recently went to see Dr. Dipti Patel-Donnelly again and told her how my art had become an outlet throughout my cancer treatment. I even showed her some of my paintings. Turns out, there are studies that review how art therapy can be very helpful to adult cancer patients.[1]

When it comes to inspiring others, my advice is to find what makes you happy. Painting brings me joy. It relaxes me (sometimes). They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I would much rather paint than expend the energy required for those thousand words.

Painting has helped center me again. Creativity can do that. I strive to live my life as a person, not just a person with cancer.

Need to talk? Virginia Cancer Specialists has Oncology Social Workers on staff ready to meet with you.