“Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.”
My patient needed a way to deal with his loss. Between the loss of his lung function and my surgery to remove his voice box, his life had really changed. Two of his biggest pleasures, an energetic round of golf and a ride in the hills on his bicycle, were no longer possible. His health had progressively robbed him of his activity. He spent more time at home thinking about his life.
One day, he brought a portfolio with him for his clinic visit. From the bag, he pulled a self-portrait oil painting complete with scars, stoma, and artificial larynx. At later visits, he often brought new paintings of still life or landscapes. He happily announced that this new hobby had given him a way to interact with his world and understand his new equilibrium.
Others affected by cancer also react creatively. I recently paged through "The Cancer Poetry Project: Poems by Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them," edited by Karin B. Miller (Fairview Press, Minneapolis, 2001). It contains over 200 poems by patients, family members and friends. The poems in this collection come from the heart, and many of the writers pointed to the healing they experienced through the process.
Gretchen Fletcher, a cancer patient’s co-worker, writes for all of us: “How can I know
how it feels to lose a breast
and fight to save lungs,
bones, and brain
when all I have to battle
is the traffic?”
When our patients are at a loss for words, writing and other forms of expression can serve as rehearsals for later meaningful communication. My patient explained his struggle in a way that had never before been possible. His artwork became a delightful and insightful conduit to other discussions.
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Love your blog...and the creative outlet of your patients. I had a similar experience recently with a patient expressing his journey through painting as well.
It's hard to care for patients with cancer when they are losing so much. You try to give hope but sometimes I feel like an actor. However, the act of coping via creative expression provides healing to the soul...for the patient and physician.
I look forward to your next entry.
Illness can have a huge impact on our life story, so much so that it changes the way we narrate it. But no matter what the medium (written word, paint, photography, etc), I've learned that part of the healing process is listening to their story.
Thank you for sharing this post!
I so love this post. So much of it makes sense to me. I have survived cancer four times. Two types. If it was not for my art, photography and writing several blogs. I am not sure where I would be. It all keeps me productive. So like your patients I know how important it is. I love that you posted about it as well. Its awesome! You might remember me writing as the pen name of Hope at ClubSammichCafe© Thanks for sharing your insite.
- Kerry Allor