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Art Therapy for Childhood Cancer

In the face of the lonely COVID pandemic, I find myself turning more towards my art as a form of self-expression. I’ve always believed that a picture is worth a thousand words and, oftentimes, a drawing can articulate a thought for me that words never will. Because of my connections to my family’s organization for childhood cancer, I wonder if that experience might resonate with children being treated for cancer as well. Being sick at such a young age is sure to cause many turbulent emotions, and being young means not having the words to express them.

Art Therapy & Benefits

In this paper titled, “How Can Art Therapy Be Utilized to Improve the Mental Health and Quality of Life of Pediatric Oncology Patients and Quality of Life of Pediatric Oncology Patients?” by Emily Golubowski of Lesley University, research and findings show how severe mental health issues can occur during and after treatment for cancer. Golubowski cites several research findings that list the many benefits of art therapy across various age groups. She states that the “process of creating art is a metaphor for life because as artists work, they have the ultimate power to change the picture. This is an allegory for life itself.” (Moon, 2008, p. 138).

I have vague recollections of being at St. Jude when my little cousin was being treated for a rare form of brain cancer. I was only three or four, but I remember nurses providing me with books, toys, and some art supplies to keep me occupied. The adults in the family were understandably busy with the medical staff, but I remember feeling included when working on these activities. ASHIC already incorporates this sort of play therapy at the play centers they run at various hospitals in Bangladesh.

At a ASHIC Play Center at a local hospital in Bangladesh

I wonder if art therapy, specifically, could help sick children in their dark times as well. If so, would it need to be a certain style or approach that could help them? The abstract from a 2017 paper titled, “The Efficacy of Art Therapy in Pediatric Oncology Patients: An Integrative Literature Review” suggests that “Implementing a drawing intervention or other forms of art into the holistic care of a pediatric oncology patient may assist in maximizing quality of life and allow for a more tolerable lifestyle.” It also suggests that through some form of art intervention, the children “…exhibited enhanced communication with family members and health care providers. Additionally, children were able to better express underlying emotions, developed more effective coping skills, and experienced a reduction in adverse side effects.”

It is intriguing to entertain the theory that my passion can bring good to others.

Dream Program

While I dreamed about how I might design a program centered around art therapy for kids struggling with cancer someday, I stumbled upon Kids And Art Foundation, which is an organization in the San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to healing pediatric cancer through the arts. They provide free art experiences to support families with children and youth in treatment for cancer, and other critical medical conditions. They provide art kits, online art experiences, and more. They also support art experiences at various care centers.

I envision something similar, where children can create storyboards of their emotions to provide catharsis for the convoluted emotions within themselves. The possibilities of what they could create are endless.

As I continue with my art journey, I wonder if I can gather myself enough to start working on such a project to help those who suffer. Time will tell.


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