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Cancer and arts program seeks NT participants

By Leanne Miles

Creative workshops for people at any stage of cancer are on offer as part of a new program through CDU Creative workshops for people at any stage of cancer are on offer as part of a new program through CDU

Creative workshops for people at any stage of cancer are on offer as part of a new program through Charles Darwin University that aims to reduce fatigue, improve wellbeing and enhance support networks.

The “HeART” Artful Wellbeing program has brought together passionate artists, academics and health professionals to investigate the benefits of using arts to help restore the health and wellbeing of cancer patients in the Northern Territory.

As part of the study, the team is running an eight-week workshop program from July to September and is seeking people who would like to be involved. 

HeART founder and arts manager Fiona Carter said the workshops were free and for people at any stage of cancer treatment or recovery.

“No previous arts experience is necessary. Well-known local artists will be on-hand running the creative workshops on music, drama, writing, painting, bowl making, dying with silk, weaving and printmaking.”

The project follows a pilot program through the Alan Walker Cancer Care Centre in Darwin, which was conducted by Ms Carter in collaboration with CDU Social Work and Community Studies Lecturer Dr Gretchen Ennis in 2014.

HeART pilot participant Sue Stewart said the workshops had been life-changing in her cancer journey particularly in relation to her mental health.

“I have never been a big writer, but during the workshops I found my feelings pouring out on to the paper,” she said. “It drew everything out. I was able to better understand my thoughts, deal with my situation and explain it to family and friends.”

Not being able to work, Ms Stewart said the workshops that culminated in the production of a short film to help others with cancer also gave her a way to contribute to helping others.

CDU Professor Marilynne Kirshbaum, who has specialised in cancer care nursing for more than 30 years, said the program that begins this month would focus on well-being and fatigue, with CDU undertaking further exploratory research into how arts programs might promote health and well-being following or during cancer treatment.

“Fatigue is a common and debilitating effect of cancer treatment,” Professor Kirshbaum said. “Non-drug treatments for managing fatigue, based on restoring energy through enjoyable activities, have been researched with promising results.

“In the pilot it was found that hospital-based arts activities provided positive distraction for patients and enhanced their feelings of wellbeing immediately after participation. It was also found that community-based arts programs for cancer survivors provided mutual support, creative enjoyment, and gave participants a sense of purpose.”

People wishing to be involved can contact Fiona Carter via E: or Marilynne Kirshbaum E:

This project is a collaboration between the CDU School of Health and HeART Arts in Cancer Care Program, with assistance from Alan Walker Cancer Care Centre (Royal Darwin Hospital) and the NT Cancer Council.