Pottery, Poetry and Patios

What do they have in common? All are forms of creative expression that cancer patients have used to “add life to their days,” wrote oncologist Evan Lipson, MD, of Johns Hopkins University in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (online edition Feb. 7, 2011).

One of his patients, Mike, was building a stone patio in his backyard because it was “therapeutic, physical, and something I could control and have a sense of accomplishment.”

Among the “unique and remarkable ways that people living with cancer make the most of their time,” Lipson has observed several themes: exercising, leaving a legacy, activism, building relationships, giving. And the most powerful, he thinks, is “creating something.”

It can be painting, pottery, gardening, writing—any outlet to express unspeakable feelings, to get a brief vacation from the roller-coaster of cancer, and/or to leave something behind.

Several studies have shown tangible physical results—improved lung function in patients having asthma; decreased pain in rheumatoid arthritis; and in a 2010 review of 12 studies in cancer patients, improved psychological states and perceived quality of life.

In his own patients, Lipson wrote, he has seen them find “relaxation, solace, calm, catharsis, and healing.” He added, “What you end up creating is not important. What matters is that the process feels good.” If it doesn’t feel good, it’s fine to move on to something else. Instead of judging the outcome according to some external standard, Lipson said, “A project is worthwhile because it comes from inside you.”

Source: Journal of Clinical Oncology (online edition Feb. 7, 2011)

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