Christine Novy, a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa School of Rehabilitation Sciences, recently presented a research poster at the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology’s Annual Conference (Virtual, June 2021).

In her poster, she discussed findings from our pilot arts-based community research program. This study aimed to explore the relationship between art-making and metaphor as a language for self-expression. We offered two series of 3-hour arts workshops to 11 women who had experienced cancer. I co-facilitated these workshops with a visual artist (Mary Pfaff) at a cancer survivorship centre. We also conducted interviews with participants before and after the workshops.

Our analyses revealed that artmaking facilitated participants’ metaphoric thought and understanding of cancer. Three main themes and metaphors emerged from our data:

1) Imperfection and Impermanence. Participants used the concept of wabi sabi, finding beauty in imperfection, to revise their understanding of cancer.

2) Transformation of identity and outlook. The artmaking process helped participants reflect on their own process of transformation.

3) Growth and Regeneration. Participants were inspired by art materials such as seeds. Using the seed metaphor, participants explored regeneration and growth. Additionally, one participant spoke of her loss of fertility resulting from her cancer treatment.

Our findings support arts-based workshops as a medium for participants to explore their experiences of cancer survivorship. This is particularly important as life expectancy after cancer treatment is increasing. Using tools like arts-based workshops may inform more in-depth understandings of women’s cancer experiences and post-treatment cancer care.

We are in the process of publishing the results from this study. Consult this blog for more updates on this project!

For more information about this project and conference presentation, please email Roanne Thomas at roanne.thomas@uottawa.ca.