Retreat introduces cancer survivors to a whole new world

Sarah Adams vividly remembers hearing these words from her doctor in May 2013.

“I have the results of your biopsy. Kid, it’s ugly.”

As her Carle doctor spoke, she started a new journey when she learned she had stage 2 breast cancer.

Sarah started treatment immediately. In her words, the “trifecta – surgery, chemo and radiation.”

Now cancer-free, Sarah participates in artistic activities as part of her ongoing recovery.

“I initially went to a support group to see if what I was experiencing was ‘normal.’ I wanted to hear from others what to expect and tips on ‘look out for this’ from those who had been there and done that,” she said.

But Sarah soon needed a more creative way to express what she was feeling.

Sarah first experienced art therapy at the Cancer Survivors Retreat in 2015 and can still describe another group member’s artwork: “It has strong, bold colors around the edges that represented the chaos around her with a clear white circle in the middle that was the light at the end of the tunnel giving her a sense of peace for treatments. It was a very powerful image.”

After a cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to know how to move forward with your life. Carle Cancer Center is hosting a survivors retreat for a day of interactive learning at The Journey to Wellness: Life after Cancer.

Experts will guide discussion and activities on legal concerns, physical activity, sexual health, smoking cessation and art therapy. Guided by a credentialed art therapist, survivors can discover the healing power of art through visual art journaling.

Saturday, June 10, 2017
8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Allerton Park and Retreat Center
515 Old Timber Road

Space is limited. RSVPs are requested by June 2.

Sarah’s next artistic experience was during a group session that was part of a speaker series.  “We started out with a sand mandala. The first woman selected some sea glass and shells because she loved the beach. Then she handed it off to me,” said Sarah, who selected pieces that spoke to her.

The group collectively created the artwork and shared why they chose their items.

Even survivors who don’t think of themselves as “artistic” are surprised how much they benefit from and enjoy the sessions.

“You don’t have to be an artist. This is a creative outlet so survivors can express their feelings without the pressure of talking in a group setting,” said Kimberly Harden, LCSW, social worker at Carle Cancer Center.

“Not everyone likes to talk about cancer. Some survivors prefer to focus on an activity other than talking.”

It worked for Sarah.

“It encourages me to think in a new way,” she said. “It’s hard to talk about what you’re going through in a group setting, and emotions are often buried when you’re hooked up to machines.”

Art therapy can complement traditional treatment plans, putting patients in the driver’s seat.

“Research shows that art therapy helps improve the overall quality of life. Some immediate effects include a reduction in stress and pain perception, increased relaxation and resiliency,” said Erin Brazill, LCSW, and registered and board-certified art therapist at Carle.

“This allows them to have a choice and some control over their journey.”

Carle is the only health system in the region to offer art therapy through a registered, board-certified art therapist. The therapy can profoundly affect a patient’s treatment.

The Journey to Wellness Cancer Survivors Retreat is free and open to all cancer survivors regardless of where they receive treatment.

“When facing a medical diagnosis, such as cancer, art-making can help you address these challenges and find a pathway towards healing, wellness and recovery.  Art therapy has the potential to heal the mind and body, making visible a person’s strength, courage and hope,” Brazill said.