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How Creativity Helped Me Heal

Web Exclusives — April 12, 2023
Liz Carren
Annapolis, MD

I am an artist who uses my art for healing. My cancer diagnosis in 2020 ignited a new life and artistic path. Words alone were not how I wanted to share and explain the cancer experience. I want others to see and feel how cancer is. I also wanted to make sense of it all for myself.

I switched artistic paths during my illness and began creating and writing in a new realm. Visualizations, then creativity, became the core of my work, which I used to help heal myself. I have become very interested in the intersection of art, medicine, and healing.

During my journey, I became even more aware of the power of positive thinking and how it is essential for healing. I now know, with myself as proof, that creativity can be an integral part of healing. Outlets for release and self-understanding are crucial at critical life points such as a cancer diagnosis. That’s where the arts can come to the rescue! They indeed came to mine.

Artwork can inspire and create hope. The medical community must address the loneliness, isolation, fears of the unknown, and the need for hope on a deeper level than is usually incorporated into current treatment plans. Patients with cancer are offered medical help in many places but not much soul help. The care centers, support groups, and the extras a patient often has to seek out can fill this void.

Imagery can help people understand and manage some of what a patient is going through. This is especially true when creating art but is also empowering as a viewer. Images can share what having cancer feels, looks, and seems like. Art allows viewers to insert themselves and get lost in the sensations of a piece and then bring it into the experience of their own personal journey. It helps sort questions of the mind, which are many when facing a severe health issue. Creating, looking, and experiencing creativity can smooth wrinkles in one’s mind.

I created a body of work I call “Bridge over Surreal Waters.” The originals are all digitally created as 30" × 30" images, mostly on my iPad, many lying in bed! The art is a visual diary of my cancer journey—visualizing the cancer parts and how the parts equal the whole. The images range from meditations, chemotherapy, and all the scans patients go through to the emotions I went through. I sent them out every 3 weeks or so to family/close friends with written journal-type words to “explain” my world. The comments and the images were all incredibly positive, and now, when I look back on them, I am impressed by my positivity and that I seemed to know it was intrinsically and vitally important to me and my healing.

My original dream was to have an art exhibit to show the images. I still hope for that—it is a robust body of work when seen as one big view—a message of positivity and hope.

I don’t want this work to be left in a closet or just in my mind. There are great lessons for all of us in the images and the words. My next move was to figure out how to make them accessible to all. The idea of a card deck was born! I reduced the size, and they became a 4" × 4" 48-card deck called “The Cancer Courage Card Deck.” It made the images and thoughts available to those facing illness challenges. They are all vibrant original images with inspirational and positive insights. Patients with cancer, caregivers, therapists, family members, and others will find these images helpful for creative inspiration, journaling ideas, and stimulating conversations, and for providing an understanding of what it’s like to be a patient with cancer.

My work authentically connects me with my audience, sharing what makes us vulnerable and human.

The decks are just getting out into the world—and I’m having a wonderful time reading the comments viewers are returning to me. It truly warms my heart to know that my documentation and journey can be turned around and help others through theirs. The words below are from a couple who just got diagnosed:

“We received your absolutely beautiful and inspiring cards in the mail last night! I was going to start skimming through a couple of cards and coming back to revisit one at a time. Change of course! I couldn’t stop reading them, so I got through the whole deck of cards. Amazing!!! The brilliant and often whimsical drawings, the creative visualizations that clearly inspired them, and the simple but powerful messaging has left such a positive impact on me! Thank you SO much!!! Regardless of a diagnosis or not, these are truly life-affirming!”

I would be delighted to share more about The Cancer Courage Card Deck with you.

To find out more, please go to for the landing page of the card deck or for more information in general.

Thank you very much.

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