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      More than just a hobby: The benefits of art therapy

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      Diane Allen turned losing her hair to chemotherapy into something beautiful.

      Diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2012, Diane knew she would lose her hair from the chemotherapy treatment. "Painting silk was fascinating, something I wanted to do," she says. "When I knew I was going to lose my hair, I thought maybe I can make scarves for my head."

      Diane bought painting supplies online, and soon she was dyeing scarves every day. "There were times when I felt so bad I could only work for 10 minutes at a time, but it gave me something I wanted to do. It was really therapeutic," she says.

      She says wearing the brightly colored scarves made her feel good about her appearance, but painting them made her feel good about her health.

      Diane's not alone in that feeling. Complementary therapies such as music and art are an important part of treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI).

      "Research suggests complementary therapies can be really beneficial to patients. It helps them reduce stress and focus on things other than what they're going through," says Brighton Loveday, APRN, nurse practitioner in the Supportive Oncology and Survivorship Program at HCI. She adds that the lack of control over treatment can cause stress for some patients, and art therapy is a way to regain some of that control in their lives.

      Diane is a true believer in art therapy. She says it was one of the only times during the day she wasn't focused on her illness. "I wasn't thinking about cancer. There's no way to think about cancer when you're painting beautiful colors," she says.

      Four years later, Diane now teaches others to paint silk and has started her own business called Survivor Silk to sell her scarves. She says they have been a huge hit with cancer patients around the country. "I've painted a lot scarves in football team colors, some that I don't like," she says. "But I do it anyway because the patient loves it."

      Diane still attends Artist-in-Residence classes at HCI for the therapeutic benefits. She explains, "It's not a heavy-duty support group. It's more about friendship and collaboration."

      Learn more about HCI's Artist-in-Residence Program

      Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit www.huntsmancancer.org.

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