Study explores creativity and young adult cancer

January 8, 2015

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We have been in touch with a researcher by the name of Amy Green who studied the relationship between art and cancer for young adults. Her findings were published in the European Journal of Cancer Care, and she was kind enough to provide the following summary for us!


The lived experience of visual creative expression for young adult cancer survivors

By Amy R. Green, MA & Richard A. Young, EdD


Creative expression (undertaken both individually and with an art therapist) has been shown to offer a wide range of psychological and physiological benefits for cancer survivors. However, very little research has explored what the experience of engaging in creative expression activities is like specifically for the young adult survivor population. This study, which was recently published in the European Journal of Cancer Care, was intended to help us better understanding the meaning young adult survivors ascribe to the experience of engaging in visual creative expression in the context of their cancer journeys.

Seven participants between the ages of 19 and 35 were interviewed about their experiences of creative expression. The participants came from diverse backgrounds and varied in their previous engagement with creative expression. Yet, all of these individuals turned to creative expression in some way – from knitting to painting to tattoo designing – after they came face to face with the life-threatening experience that is cancer. Their stories revealed that engaging in visual creative expression was meaningful because it involved:

  1. Being in the flow: Making art was a mindful experience where time and the world around seemed to disappear.
  2. Allowing the body to express itself: Art was a medium to express thoughts and feelings, when words alone were not enough.
  3. Renegotiating control: Art was used as a way to either take back control (described as “something to hold onto…when everything’s whooshing by”) or as a way to surrender to the uncontrollable nature of cancer.
  4. Changing one’s environment: Through art-making, participants created something that made a physical and permanent change to their environments, which, in turn, affected them. Displaying their physical artwork in important spaces often gave participants a sense of happiness, strength and comfort.
  5. Being seen: An important part of creative expression was showing one’s creations to others; they were able to ‘be seen’ through their art through the eyes of others.
  6. Respect for art as a separate entity: Creative expression was viewed as something that had a life of its own, and art products were seen as physical entities that were separate from, yet deeply connected to, participants.
  7. Giving back: Participants used art to give back to others; either as a way to promote cancer awareness or as gifts and a means to express gratitude to others. Several participants also encouraged others in their lives to use art to aid in their own healing journeys.
  8. Increased self-understanding: Participants used their own and others’ reflections on their artwork and the art-making process to come to increased self-awareness.
  9. A healing experience: Through creative expression, increased psychological well-being and personal growth occurred for participants.

Findings from this study are important for cancer survivors and practitioners working with this population because they suggest that turning to creative expression following a cancer diagnosis can be a meaningful, impactful, and healing experience for young adult cancer survivors. As one participant in this study so poignantly said: “Making art I think was probably the biggest thing that has helped me to become complete, or maybe just put me on the road to becoming complete.”

If you are interested in getting in contact with Amy R. Green, please email




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