Using Art for Healing – The Cancer Mural

Using Art for Healing


A couple of months ago a good friend of ours was diagnosed with cancer. Though I’ve known some people who have had cancer, when I heard the news about one of my best friends getting it, it hit me especially hard.

Her treatment consists of 6 rounds of chemo with 2 weeks at home rest after each round. I took the first “watch” and flew out to New York to be with her following her first chemo treatment.

Her mom was an artist and her mom’s mom was an artist and HER mom’s mom was an artist as well, whew, are you still with me here? My friend grew up appreciating art because of her immediate influences and has a wonderful collection, though she herself will ‘say’ she is not an artist, I beg to differ. My friend is not unlike many people who feel they are not artists. But the truth is, a good many of us loved to draw or color when we were younger and our moms proudly hung our work on the refrigerator and we were filled with joy because we made something with our hands, our mind and our heart and now it was hanging on the fridge door for everyone to see – oh the euphoria, I can still feel it. I bet you can too – if you think back – it sure felt good didn’t it?


It’s not good enough

Fast forward to us as adults, we’re measured in every way, the way we dress, what we drive, what we do as a vocation. So when it comes to art, it’s only normal that we would criticize or critique ourselves and say we can’t draw, especially when we’re surrounded by so much great art all around us. Though we often forget that many of the ‘masters’ did not get their recognition until long after they passed away!

Anyway, my friend wanted me to bring my art supplies, she wanted to paint; she wanted to help herself heal through creating art. So I brought some canvases, some paints and brushes and a pochade box. Armed with my MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) that are quickly downloadable from the Golden and Liquitex websites, I was ready to board a plane with all my paints in tow. All art gear was neatly packed into a rolling backpack, and off I flew to the east coast, having no idea what to expect upon arriving…


Armed with all the positive energy I could muster

I was greeted by my friend at the front door, she looked pretty good I thought… considering.

I hadn’t seen her since we left the east coast (almost 2 years), the hardest part was not being able to give her a hug, since germs are a ‘no-no’. Anyways, for the first few days I cooked, I cleaned and kept track of her medication, dosage and times. After a few days she felt well enough to attempt some painting. We did an acrylic pour just to loosen up, using her fave colors blue and green.


Let’s paint on the wall..

I really thought we were going to paint on the canvases I brought, until she says to me “Deb, I want to paint on my wall”!

THIS is totally out of character from my friend; the professor, the “everything in its right place” kinda gal. I’m like “are you sure, no wait, I brought canvases girlfriend, I brought A LOT of canvases!” Yes, she said! Lets paint on THIS wall, pointing to the wall as you walk in the front door. The same wall that she had freshly painted white just 2 weeks before she started chemo!  I was beginning to think the medicine was affecting her good judgement (“chemo brain” as she calls it!).

No sooner did we finish that conversation, we found ourselves in the car, headed for Michael’s Craft Supplies! It was our first trip outside the house together! We bought some Crayola “washable paint” and cheap brushes and we were armed and ready to PAINT ON!


First we marked out the border

Winter in New York can be brutal; it’s cloudy, rainy, snowy and dreary.

After asking what she wanted on the mural, she was undecided. I chose to meditate on it and felt that perhaps the hardest part of her chemo treatment was going to be in the dead of winter. So with that in mind, if we painted the sun with some blue skies, maybe that would brighten her days ahead?! This way when the sun doesn’t come out, she could just look at her wall for a little ‘pick me up’.


the start of the healing wall as a way to deal with cancer
The sun and blue skies, the start of the mural…


“Losing my hair”

On Saturday my friend exclaimed her hair was already starting to come out, “look, I’m already losing some of my hair”! Luckily one of her friends is a stylist and came right over to shave her hair. Some of the hair was put in a Ziploc bag so we could bring it to the wig fitting that following Wednesday to match her hair color. The other bits of her hair……

hair falling out
Kathy had her head shaved since her hair was beginning to fall out


What my friend thought of next was BRILLIANT…

She used the rest of her hair to make a healing tree – a healing, leaving, tree and she used her hair as the leaves! I quickly painted a tree trunk, she added the leaves (hair) using thick body paints as the glue! As it turns out, everyone who visits her place has to add a little something to the mural. So, we were all painting colored leaves on the tree, while our friend added her hair (leaves) onto the tree – talk about a team effort!

Adding hair leaves to the tree
Adding hair leaves to the tree

Part of therapy

Part of my friends’ therapy includes creative visualization, which I think is pretty cool. Western medicine is finally incorporating the mind, body, spirit connection. Part of the healing visualization that Nurse Janet was working with her on, is to imagine a Pac-Man eating the cancer cells. So of course this had to go on her mural!

Cancer-Mural-38Everyone who visits, paints a little something on the wall.

This is one of the last photo’s I took before leaving to fly back home.

Pac-Man eating cancer cells
Pac-Man eating cancer cells

Passing the baton…

After I left, my friend’s sister flew in to town and took the baton and ran with it for round 2 of chemo!

entire wall

I really love what she added, the gal meditating in the lotus position seems to be running the colors of the chakras. Plus the meditation/prayer below is added all the way around the border of the mural.

When my friend showed her doctor the photo’s of her wall mural on her phone, he told her “It’s RAD”!

Cancer mural-4

I really love what my friend has done with her healing art wall mural and am especially excited to hear and SEE the new additions that people add. The truth of the matter is – we are all artists, whether we work with steel, glass or wood. Whether we decorate cakes, write stories, cook magnificent meals, or tend to flowering gardens. Don’t be afraid to write, draw, cook – whatever it is you do – with reckless abandon! You owe it to yourself and the world.

In this case I can see where the art really does heal. I saw friends that came to her house and were hard pressed to put anything on the wall because they didn’t want to mess up, but once they DID start painting; they lit up, their faces, their eyes, their hearts – their art poured out of them.

My friend has finished her 3rd round of chemo treatment this week and the tumor has shrunk to 1/2 its original size already!!!! Her sister-in-law is taking the baton next – who knows what they will come up with. I’ll keep you posted!

Have you or someone you know been healed though art? I would love to hear more stories of this fascinating phenomenon.
Sending you love and peace –


P.S. If you believe in God, or a higher power and even if you don’t believe in anything, could you please send some positive healing energy to my friend?

Thank you!

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. CAS

    What a beautiful story…and what a beautiful friend you are!

    1. Deb

      Thanks Cheryl, that’s just what friends do! ?

  2. Anonymous

    What a beautiful experience for your friend, for you, and for all of us privileged to read your account! It shows the power of art and the power of love. P.S. yellow and green are healing colors. We actually have a physiological response to color.

    1. Deb

      Thanks. By sharing this, we hoped to help others that may find themselves in a similar situation. Art really can heal.

  3. Nadine Aktan

    Sending you lots of positive energy from your friends and colleagues at WPU…Nadine

    1. Deb B

      Hi Nadine, thank you for the good vibes! Never saw your comment until today, but thought you might want to know that my friend is doing good and STILL cancer free Thank you again for the positive energy you sent!!!!

  4. Anonymous

    Wow! The art mural is quite amazing and moving to the heart. I especially appreciate the art as a healing power to relax the body and mind. The symbolism of “Ms. Pacman” eating the bad cancer cells is powerful! Wonderful friend and story.

    1. Deb

      Just spoke with my friend this morning, she says she looks at her wall and is so grateful knowing that with so much healing intention in it from everyone, she feels she will heal.

  5. RMQ

    What a wonderful idea–and wall! Turning an excruciating experience into one that is hopeful and filled with joy!

    1. Deb B

      Yes! My friend is an inspiration!

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