TAMPA, Fla. – More than 1.6 million Americans will be told they have some form of cancer this year. Living with the disease can be a daily challenge, but some have found creative ways to cope that seem to be just what the doctor ordered.
28-year-old brain cancer patient Michelle Boyd Dejong's coping canvas is her skin. She has tattooed the word "fighter" on her arm and her husband and friends are also armed with this fighter tattoo.
"Stamping my arm was something I could control. There were so many things outside of my control," she said.
Dejong's inked arm has caught on and now people all over the world are wearing the word "fighter" on their body or t-shirt.
"I got this as a reminder to fight every single day," she said.
With each splatter of paint, cancer survivor Ray Paul's fears are fading.
"It's definitely very therapeutic and when you figure you're sick like this, you might not have a lot of time," he said.
He calls his artwork "My Sarcoma", it's his coping canvas.
"There are mainly lung cells and a couple would be the tumor in the leg. I kind of try to show it as a progression, too," Paul added.
Jacob Gardinier Scott, MD, Radiation Oncologist of Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa says finding ways to cope can be helpful for patients.
"I find that the people who are able to divert the focus back to something else, something important to them are the ones who even do better," he explained.
Studies show having a hobby or creative outlet can improve overall health and well-being. Other coping ideas are gardening, dancing, comedy, blog-writing or even exercise. It's a way to cope and fight a disease that they'll do anything to beat.
Dejong is writing a book about her journey. She says if she can't finish writing it, she'll have her husband do it.
About one-half of all adults in the United States suffer from one or more chronic health condition. These health conditions can include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity. Cancer and heart disease alone account for almost 48% of all deaths in America. Being diagnosed with cancer or any chronic disease can be extremely hard on a patient and many have learned to cope with their diagnosis in untraditional creative ways. Coping is a way that a person struggles or comes to terms with something and there are many types of coping mechanisms one can choose from. Many choose to cope by doing activities that keep their minds busy on other things besides their disease. Artist Ray Paul said images and themes that seemed to foretell his cancer before he was diagnosed are also included in his "My Sarcoma" exhibition. (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm)
TREATMENT: There are many different forms of treatment for cancer and the treatments that are available such as radiation and chemotherapy are painful and can add to the negative side effects of the disease. Creative coping is a way to get a patient's mind off of what they are going through in a not so traditional way. Many traditional ways of coping are keeping a positive attitude, accepting what is happening, relaxation, and exercise, eating and staying well rested. But sometimes, traditional methods of coping are not enough and creative coping comes into play. Many who creatively cope express themselves through art (painting, drawing, sculpting, tattoos), some dance, others may write or run marathons. These are all ways to creatively deal with the reality and the effects of living with a chronic disease. There are many support groups and also programs where patients suffering from a chronic disease are able to paint and create art in open studios.