Arts, crafts and coping with cancer

 “Arts, crafts and coping with cancer” written over a black and white photograph of hands moulding clay.

"…it gave me better pain relief than any drug could ever do.”

Facing cancer arguably takes a lot of energy, and naturally it becomes a central focus of someone’s life. But this doesn’t mean hobbies or pastimes, including arts and crafts, need to fall to the wayside. Such hobbies often provide a vital escape to where cancer is no longer the central focus, but rather your enjoyment and perhaps solace in whatever hobby or pastime works for you.

You might already be aware of this, but our Community has various threads dedicated to arts, crafts and other hobbies members are involved in that they find beneficial when facing cancer. I asked members of these threads to tell me how arts and crafts has helped them...

“I’ve quite a history of arts and crafts, I pastel paint (but haven’t for a while) which is really deeply absorbing, I did quite a bit while our son (in his very early 20’s, he’s now in his 40’s) was severely depressed and was possibly suicidal. It enabled me to switch off once a week when I went to evening class, and helped me get through those months, while still able to help our son through that difficult time. He’s now absolutely fine.

“While our daughter went through a stem cell transplant…I sat by her hospital bedside and was doing some small embroidery, whenever she woke she could see me quietly getting on with something creative, she would smile and, reassured, go back to sleep.” (moomy)

“I’ve spent more time on cancer treatment than off the last five years, and in my experience they all have one side effect in common: fatigue. There are times when all I can do is sit on the sofa. I’ve knitted and crocheted my way through more sofa days than I can count. It keeps both hands and enough of my brain busy without being too taxing, and I enjoy thinking about my friends and family while I make them lovely things.

“I’m not the only cancer patient whose sanity has been saved by crafting. On the Community we share pictures of our creations. It’s inspiring to see what others are up to and fun to get nice feedback.” (daloni)

“I was introduced to arts and crafts at the local hospice. I was very sceptical about its benefits, but actually I find it incredibly helpful and valuable for cancer patients because it gives you something to focus on, to create and distract from the worries and effects of treatments. You can have days when you’re in a lot of pain and focusing on a painting, drawing or some craft item just gives you a bit fun and enjoyment and you also find that a positive can come from a negative. It gives you calm and a sense of peace and just pure awesomeness. Once you find something you enjoy it doesn’t matter how good you are, but just having that time where you can create something to distract your mind and give you inner peace. It then becomes where can I improve? I discovered that some of my best artwork has come about when I am in the most amount of pain.

“Often, we are helpless when it comes to cancer, the way it affects you, the treatments and prognosis but art and crafts is something you can control, you can create and learn new skills, try things you wouldn’t have thought of either…it’s very strange to explain, but there is something very spiritual about arts and crafts.” (Gbear)

“…when I got cancer it seemed to help me express my feelings since I never had much of a ‘voice’. It started off with me making hand-made gifts for my surgeon and nurse…They seemed to love them! I was expressing how having cancer made me feel – would I lose my hair (my pride and joy)? Would I lose my life? I set a few items together which expressed these thoughts. The result…I made for my surgeon and shyly gave to her one day in a plastic bag and left hurriedly! It shows my fear of what I might lose, my sensitivity to lovely things, and losing my life." (Anonymous)

“Knitting through cancer and the treatments that go hand in hand gave me something to occupy my mind, and it kept my hands busy. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your creation come together. Because knitting can be quite repetitive it has a calming effect on the brain, so I wasn’t thinking of the next chemo etc., and knitting gave me the strength to be positive.

“I started the Crafts and BC thread last February as I saw it as a way of bringing like-minded people together to talk about something other than our diagnoses and treatments. It gave us the opportunity to ‘show off’ our creations!” (taralou)

Here’s just a sample of our Community artists’ work:

A collage of four paintings by Community members, a photograph of stripy knitted bag and a felt pink rose.

If you're involved in any pastimes or hobbies that have helped you face cancer, go ahead and share them in the comments section below.

Members of our breast cancer group might like to join the art club thread; our womb (uterus) cancer group has an arts and crafts thread too; but you can start a discussion in whatever groups you’re a member of, if you wish to discuss hobbies and the positive impact they can have.

Macmillan Cancer Support works with various support groups across the UK, ranging from arts and crafts groups, singing groups and choirs, to physical activity groups designed for people living with cancer. You can find out what’s near you through the In Your Area section of our website.

  • I have a little summer house in my garden in which I do craft, I have just got back to it now my treatment has finished for follicular lymphoma, I do all sorts jewellery powertex painting I took some jewellery in for the nurses who looked after me during my chemo they loved it ,one said to me this is the first time I have had a gift from a patient, made me bit sad as they work so hard and are so kind to everyone,anyway I agree with doing any sort of craft really is helping me cope and I get a few hours each day to play in my shed cup tea fag and my little dog ted keeps coming in to check on me and now the weather is perking up great. even if your good at craft or just starting give it a go really does help divert the mind from fatigue and thinking and anxiety we all get so give it a go.  Jeanette49 

  • I draw almost every day. I particularly enjoy drawing cartoons of funny incidents that happen to my wife and me. I capture those moments so that in the dark times we can have a good laugh. My wife is an avid crafter as well-she crochets amazing animals as well as clothes. I will try to show some examples of her work as I am so proud of what she can do.