Art Therapy for cancer patients

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Cancer Focus Northern Ireland is providing an art therapy service, free of charge, for cancer patients in the north coast area.

The art therapy group will meet at the Corrymeela Community, Ballycastle, each Monday from November 14 until December 19 from 2pm to 3.30pm.

Cancer Focus NI art therapist Joanne Boal said: “You don’t need to have any experience or skill in art to take part. Art therapy can help people communicate anxiety or stress. Many of those taking part find the creative process relaxing and they can unwind and chat to other people in a similar situation.

“We know that cancer affects everyone differently. It can make people feel that they have lost control, increase feelings of isolation and can often lower a person’s self-esteem.

“But, research has shown that creating art can have a positive impact - improving a patient’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. For many cancer patients this can result in a better understanding of their illness and coming to terms with the disease and the future.”

Co Antrim breast cancer survivor Claire Williamson (42) said she finds the Cancer Focus NI art therapy service a valuable lifeline.

“I found the chemo really tough and towards the end of the treatment I felt I wanted to do something to support my mental health. I contacted Cancer Focus NI who suggested art therapy,” said the mum of two.

“I’d never heard of it before but decided to give it a go. Joanne, the art therapist, was great and very reassuring. She told me not to worry about what we would paint or do but that we’d work it out when I arrived. The first week I tried watercolour which I found very calming. I then tried craft and clay, chatting to Joanne while we worked.”

Claire said the session was one hour of space for her alone. “You can slow it all down. It’s escapism, peaceful. And great fun too. It’s not like when you paint with the kids because you think of the mess and having to clear up - but to just be free and enjoy what you’re doing is great.”

Claire admits she hasn’t created masterpieces but her work is very precious to her. “Some look ridiculous, childlike, but others are peaceful and tranquil. One day I was working with clay… bashing it. I was really working with it and getting quite physical. It almost felt like I was running again. I felt alive.

“During one session I had a real self-healing moment. I literally started to throw paint at the page with no thought. It was a freedom, no restrictions, whereas the outside world was so restrictive to me. It was liberating. I remembered who I was.”

She added: “Cancer stops you living. It stops you socialising as your immune system is low and you don’t want to mix. Art therapy gave me a release. It became a coping strategy. If I was angry, I could be angry or calm or centred. I would leave art therapy and feel like I had achieved something.

“Joanne is great. She takes you on a journey and says the right things at the right pace to get you to open up about how you really feel. The release is amazing. We don’t analyse the paintings… it’s the process. She is very supportive.”

Claire added: “If anyone has the opportunity to do art therapy then they should do it. I would highly recommend it. It’s so helpful at helping to address your feelings and emotions. I come away from the sessions feeling positive and upbeat. There have been tears and laughter but also great fun.

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer it is important to keep strong. Coming to art therapy and talking in a confidential and safe environment helps with your mental wellbeing.”

Cancer Focus NI’s Art Therapy sessions are entirely confidential and take place in a safe and caring environment. All materials are provided free of charge and those taking part can use a variety of mediums such as paints, pastels, pencils or clay.

To book a place please call Cancer Focus NI on 028 9066 3281 or email care@cancerfocusni.org. For more information visit www.cancerfocusni.org.

If you are concerned about cancer call the Cancer Focus NI free Nurseline on 0800 783 3339 and speak to a specialist cancer nurse.