The Colors of Cancer:
Workshop offers healing and hope through art
by Diane Kenney
This is an article about cancer, but more than that, it is an article about art and healing. What does art have to do with healing?
I can only write about this from my own experience. About a year ago, I was stunned to learn that I had breast cancer. That word, cancer, didn’t fit in my mouth in a sentence starting with “I have.” Cancer is profoundly disorienting. It turns your life upside down.
But last summer, I received a call from Sheri Gaynor, offering her support. Sheri is a clinical social worker and registered expressive arts therapist with years of experience in psychotherapy and women’s issues. She specializes in using expressive arts as a way to get at the issues and release pain.
Sheri helped me create a journal titled “Envisioning Healing,” which allowed me to better understand my cancer experience using art as a tool. Themes emerged as we worked together: acceptance, fear, loss, life thresholds, healing symbols, body image, trust, transformation and moving forward. Sheri encouraged me to freely use colors, lines, symbols and other imagery to express these concepts and feelings, to reveal my concerns, and to help me understand cancer with greater mindfulness and calm. Paint, chalk, pastels, collage, photos — I used anything I wanted.
As Sheri and I worked together, we realized that we wanted to share this healing process with other cancer survivors. The overwhelming generosity and support I have received from this community has sustained me and filled me with a desire to give something back. So, together, we created a program called “Living with Cancer and Beyond: Visions of Healing and Hope,” and we invited survivors to make art based on their own lives and experiences with cancer.
The program is for men and women who are survivors of all types of cancer, not just breast cancer, whether newly diagnosed or many years out of treatment. We meet weekly, in six-week sessions. No art experience is necessary and all are welcomed, encouraged and supported. Each week has a healing theme that we use to guide the art-making activity, though each session is also organic and we respond to whatever comes up for participants.
We have met six times so far, and it has been fascinating for all of us to discover the images and insights that emerge as we write journal passages or put a brush to paper. The colors and materials take shape and speak to us in surprising ways, revealing issues, ideas, fears and gratitude. Through art, we are finding a voice, a visual identity and more cause for hope. The group provides us with a strong sense of connectedness and the realization that we are not alone. We have the chance to give back — to support, inspire and help one another — and we even have some fun playing with paint and glue and all kinds of materials!
Healing is both a complicated and a simple process. We have such excellent medical cancer care in this valley, but there is a limit to what surgery, chemo, radiation and drugs can do. The rest of it is up to us! The Living with Cancer and Beyond program is a way to explore some other wonderful healing resources. We are learning to pay attention to the healing power within each of us — and to unleash it. This workshop is all about transformation.
We want this to be affordable for everybody so we offer this workshop on a sliding fee scale. We are grateful for the generous donations we received to help initiate this workshop. We have also established a scholarship fund for this program, and we welcome contributions.
Cancer can actually bring gifts. It can bring new and deepened soul connections and a renewed love of the sweetness of life. Sheri and I are learning more from each gathering and constantly thinking of new expressive arts projects and art forms, including drumming, dance, yoga, photography, music, poetry and who knows what else!
For more information about the program, to make a donation or to register for the next session, contact Sheri Gaynor at 618-0561 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Diane Kenney at 963-2395, email@example.com. Gaynor’s Web site is, creativesparkstudio.com.