Maintaining identity through illness

I recently came across a study about art therapy for cancer patients. It remarked on the importance of meaningful activity, such as the creation of art, as a way of maintaining one’s identity while dealing with a serious illness such as cancer.

I find this very interesting because it certainly has reflected my experience. My  life is consumed by my illness and treatment, so to have things to do that are meaningful help me feel that I am not my illness.  These kinds of activities give me something to think about, talk about and focus on that help remind me of who I really am and who I am becoming, independent of my illness.

My involvement with the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Canada has played that kind of a role. Aside from the physical benefits,  which have been enormous, its charitable and volunteer nature has taken my focus out towards helping other people, a deeply meaningful activity. It has also helped me to feel strong and able to affect change when having an illness can give you the perception of being weak and impotent.

My writing has also served that purpose. When people ask what I am doing, I can say that I am writing rather than saying I am a sick person.  My waiting room hours are now filled with imaginings, shaping and creating which provide a welcome reprieve from worrying, boredom and suffering.  I am an active player in my own story. Writing is an act of engagement with my life that makes everything seem more interesting and full of potential.

Reading this article helps me connect to my own experience and understand why it’s not enough for me to just be a patient ( although there were times when that was all I could be) , but how important it is for me to find meaningful activity to stay connected to my soul.

Many hospitals are now providing writing, art and music therapy programs for their patients. These kinds of programs can do more than just help people process their experience, it can remind them that they are living, breathing people with purpose beyond just surviving the next round of chemo.

If you have been ill, what are your experiences with maintaining the “you” in you while being sick?


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