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Art4Fun: Can joining an art class help you cope with cancer?

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Does creating art calm the mind and body and refresh the spirit? art helps patients  recover

Most of us are lucky enough to be reasonably 'healthy'. We may have aches and pains, some days when we are off colour but imagine how it feels to be given a diagnosis of cancer. I've recently undergone the regular cervical smear test and mammogram and there is always that sense of relief when the letter arrives telling me that all is "normal". I try not to think too much about how I would feel if I was one of the thousands of people who are diagnosed with some form of cancer each year in the UK. In the last few weeks I've spoken to people who have experienced just that - they have been told they have cancer.  It's nothing like the terrifying disease it once was, effective treatments are now routinely saving lives, but still a diagnosis of cancer must surely produce fear and anxiety. 

Research and anecdotal evidence suggests that a positive sense of well-being can improve and enhance a patient's experience. Some creative activities produce a mental and bodily calm which enhances healing and assists the whole person as they undergo mainstream cancer treatment.  When we consider notions of 'health' we recognise it means more than an absence of pain or disease. It implies a sense of all-round well-being. There is plenty of research being done to explore how creative activities can encourage and promote this sense of well-being. Active involvement with creative art helps produce a fusion of mental endeavour and physical action that is all-absorbing and a wonderful stress buster. Undergoing cancer treatment is likely to be an anxious and stressful experience so finding ways to improve mood and allow relaxation are highly beneficial to promoting the all round healing process . There is so much talk about holistic approaches to health and this group in Skipton  puts the theory into good practice.

Katy West is an art tutor offering art courses in Skipton, North Yorkshire. She also runs the 'Art4Fun' classes at Skipton's Cancer Support Centre. This is a free group session for all abilities - no 'artistic' experience required and all materials are provided.  Katy describes how through art each person can reconnect with something deep inside themselves - she firmly believes we all have a creative instinct. Many of us decide that we 'can't draw' or 'can't do art' but Katy argues that art is part of the whole human experience and she is fascinated and excited by the wonderful art that students create after learning some basic techniques.  They can work with pastels or crayons or watercolour - Katy encourages her students to try different mediums and find their favourite. She gently supports and encourages her students to promote confidence and enthusiasm. It's quite amazing how quickly people become 'hooked' and forget negative ideas of 'not being artistic'.  Her students, nearly all beginners, describe how they 'get lost' in their art work, how they become totally absorbed and forget their worries for a while. Josie finds herself "concentrating so hard it takes my mind off everything else". The groups also like to have some fun and a giggle but as they settle and become engrossed in their painting it is surely this total focus of mental and physical concentration that creates a meditative sense of utter calm.

Katy is not a trained art therapist but has years of experience in teaching art classes and also working with carers, people with dementia and those with cancer. She talks of how difficult it would be to scientifically assess the value of art classes in those undertaking cancer treatment BUT her groups speak for themselves. The getting together in a supportive, relaxed group to explore and experience the making of 'art' allows people to express themselves. At a time when someone may feel at a loss or frightened or isolated joining an art class can bring many benefits.

Please contact Bradford cancer support on 01274 776688 for more information about the Skipton Cancer Support Sessions.

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