by Caitlin Glenn, MSW
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, your entire world is shaken. Your identity is altered, your priorities shift, and tremendous change occurs in almost every area of your life. These changes can be anxiety provoking and, at times, frightening. But somewhere in the midst of these uncertainties, something beautiful happens – a space for newness and fresh ideas opens up.
Cancer has pushed you out of your comfort zone. Your life looks different now. And a rebuilding is about to take place. After what feels like the hundredth doctor’s appointment or chemotherapy infusion, you may find yourself craving forward movement in your life. You may begin to seek ways to reconstruct your identity, infusing your new life after cancer with beauty, meaning, and joy. This process is one of creativity – of learning new things, discovering who you are, and deciding what is important to you now.
Creativity can mean many things. It can mean expressing yourself through art, writing, music, or design. But it can also mean saying yes to new experiences. As humans, we tend to stick to what we know, to what is comfortable. But there is nothing comfortable or familiar about a cancer diagnosis.
You can choose to resist the changes cancer brings about – to cling wildly to the life you had before cancer (even though you know you can never really go back). Or you can accept the new possibilities that lie before you with a gentle openness to change.
If you allow yourself to say yes – to the yoga class, or the local art group, or the therapeutic writing clinic – you open more doors to a new, reconstructed identity. This is where you will find your new normal. When you open yourself up to new possibilities, beautiful things will happen.
Your cancer does not define you, but you can use your experience to grow as a person and to find new passions and interests. When you look at it this way, creativity is ultimately about self-discovery, about opening your eyes and your mind to a unique perspective. One that offers you an opportunity to rebuild from loss and embrace courage through creation.
Caitlin Glenn is an oncology clinical social worker at Hoag Family Cancer Institute in Newport Beach, CA, where she works directly with cancer survivors and their families, as well as develops and facilitates supportive programs to increase cancer survivors’ quality of life, encourage creativity, and provide therapeutic outlets.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2016.