Creativity Workshop for Patients with Cancer & Their Families

cw_hope-lodge-portrait1 cw_hope-lodge-portrait2 cw_hope-lodge-portrait3

I just finished a 2-day Creativity Workshop for People with Cancer & Their Families.  Below are pictures of the participants’ artwork, results of the post questionaire as well as the purpose of the Creativity Workshop.  All of the participants had never painted in their life, and a few of them enjoyed creative activities such as arts ‘n crafts, playing music, gardening, etc.  And yes, they either had or were going through cancer treatment, or were caring for a family member diagnosed with cancer.

They were curious, nervous, and willing to try something new.  On the last day of the Creativity Workshop, most people expressed surprise on their creative abilities to create a self-portrait (but I certainly was not!).

I am thankful to the following institutions and people for supporting and donating their time, art supplies and space: Emory Winship Cancer Institute – Ali Schaffer & Jim Hankins, Davis Academy, Donna Horn, Mary O’Horo, Malika Mannings, Pargen & Lesley Robertson, Helen DeRamus, Marilynn Brandenburger, Nick A Demus, and last but not least, Hope Lodge.

The Purpose of the Creativity Workshop: A growing body of research demonstates that creativity and spirituality can heal by changing a person’s physiology, attitudes, emotional states and perceptions of pain.  Engaging in the creative process has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and decrease the need for pain medication.  Creative activities also stimulates the amygdala in the brain to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters, thereby, reducing pain and triggering the immune system to function more efficiently.  Furthermore, by engaging in creative activities, people with cancer and their families experience reduced stress and anxiety levels, a heightened sense of well-being and develop stronger emotional bonds.

Read again, “The Science Supporting Creativity in Healthcare” located under ‘Topics’ in the left sidebar.

Main Creativity Workshop Project: painting a self-portrait using geometric cut-outs as templates.

And now, the SELF-PORTRAITS! Mind you now, what you see below are first time paintings. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger image.

cw_hope-lodge-portrait5This participant never painted in her life, but was willing to try.  As she was painting, she said a number of times “this looks stupid…”  With much encouragement by the other participants (and myself), she painted this painting.  She didn’t explain what the painting was about, but did share she was very surprised about her creative abilities.



 This person understood the small, but important changes that occurs when engaged in the creative process…said the act of creating took on alot more meaning and changed the imagery to reflect the changes.




This person also never painted before.  She is undergoing chemotherapy.



This Creativity Workshop participant explained she was standing behind the door because she didn’t want to come out.  The triangle shape to the right of the door are the various paths she can take.  This person, also, had never painted before.



This participant never painted before, but did alot of creative activities such as arts ‘n crafts, gardening, etc.



cw_hope-lodge-portrait6This person’s spouse has a large abdominal tumor that is inoperable.  She explained the large circle is the tumor and is pressing against the abdominal organs (semi-circles attached to the large circle).  The figure to the left is the participant fighting and killing the tumor.  This, too, is this person’s first time to try artwork.

Results of the Creativity Workshop post-questionaire:

Dates: Nov 6 & 15, 2008.  Location: Hope Lodge, Decatur, GA

Less than


As expected

Better than expected

1. With regard to fun, the workshop was


2. I felt inspired


3. The workshop was interesting


4. Promoted my creativity



5. After the workshop, I felt more cheerful


6. My mood was improved by the workshop



7. My satisfaction with Creativity Workshop


8. My discomfort, pain or anxiety was diminished during/after the workshop



(N=6 (there were a total of 7 participants)

The Workshop participants also had the opportunity to add comments regarding the arts intervention, and here what they wrote:

  1. The ease and calmness of the exercises; the comradry
  2. FUN!pink-rose
  3. The instructor was fantabulus! The music was inspiring! The warm up exercises relaxing, and all who participated encouraging!
  4. The instructor was wonderful. I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed being with the group.
  5. A wonderful workshop – I felt alive and creative!
  6. All the colors that you could put on canvas to express yourself.  So peaceful.  Class not long enough.

I’d like to point out the responses to 3 of the questions –

  • After the workshop, I felt more cheerful
  • My mood was improved by the workshop
  • My discomfort, pain or anxiety was diminished during/after the workshop

Only one person indicated ‘as expected’ and five people selected ‘better than expected’ on their current emotional and physical levels.  This means the amygdala in the brain was stimulated to release endorphins, along with dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.  So what does this mean?The release of the neurotransmitters helped reduce anxiety and stress levels, lower vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, breathing), and elevate sense of overall well-being.  Moreover, because the neurotransmitter, endorphin (a natural opiate), was stimulated and released, reduced the participants’ pain levels.

I may sound like a broken record, but there is a biochemical  basis and neurochemical process to emotions, which Candace Pert, Ph.D discovered in the early seventies (btw, Dr. Pert discovered the opiate receptor as a graduate student (!) at John Hopkins).  We are multi-dimensional beings with body-mind-spirit-emotion levels, and these systems are in constant interaction and communication with each other.  So, what effects one system/level affects the other three.

Below is a painting about dopamine and it’s effects on the brain, and therefore, the body-mind-spirit-emotional communication system. It’s a good visual representation about what I am talking about…


(‘headrush’ by Marti Hand, 2008)

To read a description about the painting, log onto Marti and select the Molecules of Emotion series.

Note: Post your comments by selecting the itsy bitsy ’No Comments’ or ‘Comments’ option (whichever may be the case) located in the tiny menu bar below this post.

2 responses to “Creativity Workshop for Patients with Cancer & Their Families

  1. Pingback: Lilly Oncology On Canvas « CREATIVITY IN HEALTHCARE

  2. Good health seems to be affected from every aspect in life. I think creativity is a good medicine!

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