Art therapy helps cancer patients cope
August 13, 2014
Being diagnosed with cancer can make you
feel like your life’s been turned upside down.
You want the most advanced treatment you can get—
and the caring support you need to help you or your
loved one cope and thrive through your journey. At
UC Irvine Health, we provide the best of both worlds.
“Even though treatments have greatly improved, there’s
still tremendous fear and anxiety around cancer,” says
oncologist Dr. Leonard Sender. “That’s why our support
programs are so important.”
“Art for the Soul” is a prime example of these programs.
Taught by Val Engstrom, a three-time cancer survivor,
and his wife Rolanda, Art for the Soul enables cancer
patients to express their fears and emotions through art.
The Engstroms started the program in 2007 at the
urging of social worker Jennifer Higgins, who met the
couple at a cancer support group. “When I learned they
were both artists, it just seemed like this could be
a great outlet for our patients,” says Higgins.
No art experience is needed. “If all you can draw is
a stick figure, that’s great,” says Engstrom. “But
most people are surprised to learn they can do much
more—and they really enjoy it.”
Creating a painting or sketch can be more than just a
temporary distraction for patients undergoing cancer
treatment. “It’s a chance to create something durable
and lasting,” says Engstrom. “It adds a permanence
to your life at a time when that’s in question.”
Another support service, the Cancer Buddy program, offers patients a different, but
equally important outlet, pairing newly diagnosed
cancer patients with a volunteer who’s been successfully
treated for the same type of cancer. “Being able to talk
to someone who’s gone through the same thing as you
really helps,” says Bob Griffith, program coordinator.
“Some patients don’t want to reveal their fear or anxiety
to their families—they want to be strong,” says Higgins.
“A buddy gives them someone to open up to.”
For Griffith, who was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma
in 2002, the buddy program is a way to give back. “I had
incredible support from those around me—that’s why
I’m still here,” he says. “I want others to have that, too—
and know they’re not alone.”
For more information and a list of cancer support
groups, visit ucirvinehealth.org/events.
View some of the paintings by Art for the Soul class members in the gallery below.