How Art Therapy Can Help Breast Cancer Patients

Mary’s story is a reminder that art lets you be yourself, and expressing yourself creatively is truly healing

Breast cancer survivors use different avenues to deal with their diagnosis. There are those that find creative paths to channel their energy as a way of ‘healing’ for their soul. Some women discover journaling as an outlet to write their thoughts. Others create quilts, sculptures, write music, or take classes in photography to start a new hobby. All of these are good examples of how art therapy can help breast cancer patients.


Art Therapy for Emotional Health

A diagnosis of breast cancer is a soul-searching journey; for many survivors who receive proper support, a healthy recovery includes some form of artistic healing. One of the most popular types of artistic healing is painting — some might say, the ‘ultimate’ art. It has a way of pulling what’s inside you ‘out’. It is a state of vulnerability for the artist. The viewer can almost read the soul of the survivor.


No one knows this more than Mary Carroll Moore. Mary is a writer, a teacher and an artist. She is also a breast cancer survivor — a survivor who uses art therapy as a way of healing from breast cancer. She’s a wonderful study on how art can be truly restorative.


“After my chemotherapy, I was so happy to be alive and healing. But the months went by and I noticed that I had much healing to do still on the inside. A friend encouraged me to look at what I loved most in my life, especially things I had put aside for lack of time. I made a list of 25 things I loved, and ‘art’ came up over and over. I had been a painting student in college but put art aside for more practical things. A painting friend introduced me to pastels, encouraging me to just play with the colors, and I was hooked. I remembered why I loved art so much! As I began to paint regularly, the inner parts of myself that had been damaged by the cancer—my trust, hope, and joy in life—began to heal too.


Taking Art Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients to Another Level

“Although I minored in painting in college and studied with different teachers, it wasn’t until 1999, when I began studying pastel painting, that I really understood the power of color and light. I became a student of full-color seeing, attending classes with teacher and artist Susan Sarback at The School of Light and Color in Fair Oaks, California.”


As Mary learned, art therapy can give breast cancer patients an outlet for their complicated emotions during treatment, recovery and even beyond their breast cancer experiences. Now, Mary is showing her artwork — the same studies of light that inspired her during her recovery — around the country.


“I work on a special kind of pastel paper that allows me to build up many layers of color, to create a glow of light coming from within the painting. My paintings are done from still-life set-ups in my studio or landscapes en plein air; I find the color truer than working from photographs.”


Mary’s artwork has been in many shows in the U.S., both group and individual exhibits, and several paintings have won awards.


Find the Creative Expression that Works For You

There are many creative outlets for breast cancer survivors. Art therapy is only one. You might consider music therapy, poetry, writing stories, dance or martial arts, other fine art like pottery, or even volunteerism or a new job. The point is to choose something. Doing something creative with your energy serves as excellent therapy. While your hands work on the art, your mind works out its thoughts naturally.


“Besides art, I sing in a small vocal group and write short stories. I’m even working on a novel! The arts — all of them — are just one outlet for healing after cancer. The most important thing is to find what you love and make sure there’s time and space in your life to do it. This is what heals us the most.”


If you have found art therapy beneficial as a breast cancer patient, we would love to hear about it. Please share your story with us in social media or by submitting it here.