About 1,685,210 new cancer cases may be diagnosed in 2016. Cancer usually develops in older people; 86% of all cancers in the United States are diagnosed in people 50 years of age or older. Certain behaviors also increase risk, such as smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, or not being physically active.
42% of the male American population is likely to be diagnosed with cancer. 38% of women are likely to be diagnosed. Men are statistically more likely to die from their cancer than women, and while odds of death resulting from cancer have decreased by about 20% since 1990, it’s still killing too many Americans.
With statistics like that, it’s unsurprising that cancer is one of the biggest influencers in our lives. We try very hard to avoid it, but the chance that you or someone you know will suffer from cancer at some point or another, is very likely.
There’s a lot to the physical side of cancer, the treatments and tests can strain any relationship, so it’s important to balance out these negative attributes – to focus on keeping relationships strong and healthy. Research has dedicated a lot of time to finding ways to improve the emotional (and thereby physical) effects of cancer on both patients and caretakers.
The answer isn’t that surprising. The answer is creativity.
We’ve been using art to solve emotional difficulties for years. Children with autism draw to indicate their emotions. Singing has been used to help those with post-traumatic stress disorder. Drawing, dancing, singing, sculpting… they’re all beneficial.
Research has shown that singers experience a range of health and well-being benefits, including a feeling of being uplifted, a sense of belonging, and feelings of accomplishment, as well as reduced anxiety and depression. Singing in a choir can ease the sense of isolation and create shared experiences between carer and patient.
Singing in a group setting can also help create a new base of friends. Old friends may fall by the wayside, unsure of how to interact with someone suffering from cancer. A new base may simply see it as part of new member. You can also find cancer choirs, where all participants are caretakers or cancer patients.
Singing also has many physical benefits. Deep breathing stabilizes blood pressure and brings more oxygen to your organs. Your blood can be activated through singing, and the benefits are greatest in groups because of the increased vibration and resonance when there’s unison and harmony going on in group singing
Singing has also been linked with a reduction in pain. It’s also been shown to lower anxiety before surgery. It’s important to remember that these benefits exist whether you can sing or not. Some patients have reportedly gone to choir just to mouth words and help with song writing. It simply helps to be in a group.
If choir isn’t something you can imagine yourself doing, sing in the car on your way to treatments. Master the songs on the radio. Learn the chorus and the harmonies. If a song is catchy, people will join in. Even if it’s just under their breath. (If you don’t believe me, hum the opening of “Disturbia” by Rihanna in any crowded setting, half an hour later people will be “dum dum dum de dum dum dum de dum dum” right along with you.)
Maybe singing isn’t your thing. Consider doodling. Not art, per se, because saying “art” can make you feel like it has to be good: but just drawing something. Even abstract symbols or messy watercolors can help. In fact, research shows that it can often help cancer patients work through what they cannot verbalize out loud.
Art therapy has been shown to lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and improves blood flow to certain areas of the brain. It has been shown to reduce physical symptoms of treatment, including; reduction in fatigue, pain, lack of appetite, and shortness of breath after just an hour of working on something creative.
If you can’t do art therapy, take time to doodle together. Make up drawing games, write odd things on pieces of paper and try to illustrate them. It can be fun and funny, helping to bolster spirits and foster stronger emotional bonds as well as providing drawing benefits.
Cancer is a difficult situation, but with mindfulness, creativity, and patience the emotional and the physical effects can be managed. Do something unexpected, make memories, make something beautiful.