Colouring Outside the Lines

Durham resident Tracy Dixon learned she had colon cancer while sitting
in the emergency room at the Oshawa Hospital.

She had come to the hospital with intense stomach pain that had been bothering her intermittently for several months.

The weeks that followed were a blur of appointments and tests across Lakeridge Health. At Port Perry Hospital, Tracy received laparoscopic surgery to remove a tumour and 17 lymph nodes.

“Dr. Wang at Port Perry Hospital was a laparoscopic genius,” says Tracy.

“He helped calm me prior to my surgery and later removed the entire mass.”

Soon after, the 50-year-old was scheduled to begin chemotherapy treatments at the R.S. McLaughlin Durham Regional Cancer Centre.

“My anxiety levels were off the chart,” recalls Tracy. “I was upset and scared and I felt as if the whole room was spinning.”

Research shows that depression can affect up to 20% of people with cancer and anxiety can affect another 10%.* Tracy’s friend Karen Wilgosz, who accompanies her to appointments and treatments, recognized Tracy’s stress and suggested she do something creative to shift her focus.

Initially, Tracy blogged about her journey. Then she had another idea. Every new patient starting cancer treatment at the cancer centre receives a plain cloth bag with patient education materials. Tracy saw her bag as a blank canvas calling for colour.

She purchased a package of markers and created her first image. Colouring created a distraction, helping her manage emotional distress during her cancer journey.

“People living with cancer often experience intense negative emotions, so any activity that shifts the mind off this can be useful,” says Donna Bills, a social worker with the cancer centre. “Similar to meditation, colouring allows a person to focus only on the moment, helping to alleviate anxiety and stress.”

Tracy continues to colour on cloth bags, adding creative designs that often include inspiring messages. She has had opportunity to give bags to other patients as conversations are prompted by an interest in what she is doing. Two of Tracy’s bags are displayed on the waiting room activity carts in the cancer centre.

“It has helped to keep my spirit alive,” Tracy explains. “Managing emotions, depression and anxiety is a daily struggle when you have cancer. I hope I can introduce this creative outlet to others.”


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