Sunday, January 15, 2017

Coloring My Way to Peace of Mind: How a Childhood Pastime Helped Me Adjust to Life After Cancer

Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.--Oscar Wilde

   It's funny but while going through chemo for Stage II A Breast Cancer the last thing I wanted was to look at something ugly. This sentiment was reflected in my daily appearance, especially when I had doctor's appointments and other medical visits. Part defense mechanism, part sartorial expression my style helped me cope with my changing health and lifestyle. One of my favorite outfits-a pink tweed Chanel-esque blazer over a white ruffled trim shirt and frilly multi-tiered skirt-was made even more memorable with a pink knit cap and orange flower pin attached to my lapel. During my six hour visits, to the chemo suit, I tried to relax and daydream amidst the harsh battle that was going on inside my body. In that short period, my mind flowed from words, in the latest book I was reading to glossy photos of the season's trends and supermodels. Later, after my treatment ended, I discovered I still craved constant beauty. With my digital camera I rediscovered the "naturehood in my neighborhood" and photographed every flower, tree and sunset that caught my eye.
   "How can I immerse myself in all of this eye candy and stay awhile?" I wondered to myself as I shot frame after frame of lush wonder.
    The day I discovered adult coloring I got my answer.

White Roses on Chesapeake Avenue

What I Love About Coloring

   The first pages I ever colored were free Xerox copies of floral and leaf bedecked dresses from one of my favorite coloring books, Creative Haven's Flower Fashion Fantasies by Ming-Ju Sun. Peaceful and calming, they were a pleasant diversion from the first job I'd held since my cancer diagnosis, as a Special Education Trainee Assistant Substitute for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). As I became more adept at my new hobby, however, I realized I could use it to help the Special Ed students I was assigned to. A teacher, for one of my Kindergarten students at Beethoven Elementary School,often asked me to help him color correctly to improve his fine motor skills. First he'd retrace over the straight and slanted lines I drew with yellow highlighter, then he'd progress to the alphabet, his name, numbers one to ten, and finally coloring a picture the teacher had given the class to do. 
   Personally I soon developed better composition techniques, design tactics, and an improved eye for subtlety, which helped me last summer when I took FASHN 9A, a fashion illustration class, at Santa Monica College. The therapeutic aspect, including "complete absorption in a project", is another reason I enjoy doing this activity alone and sharing it with students and others.

My First Coloring Page from Flower Fashion Fantasies

The Coloring Contest

It takes reality pedagogy and pedagogical strategies birthed from neoindigenous practices like the battle to bring their voices to the fore and allow their brilliance to flourish.--Christopher Emdin

   My chance to use coloring came up again when I did my one-month assignment at 74th Street Elementary School in another Resource classroom. An assigned group of students came for their appointed time, but after a few minutes we ran out of things to do academically, leaving them restless and tired. I'd printed out some free educational coloring pages, Animals from the Ice Age, from Dover Publications and gave them to the Resource teacher. The mail-order catalog said they were an excellent way for students to learn about a new subject while coloring, whether you used them for home schooling or as part of a class curriculum.
  "Do you want to work on these?" I asked them.
  They immediately agreed to do them and one student even proposed having a Coloring Contest where I selected the best picture at the end. Fortunately we had a tie because everyone did a phenomenal job and the reward was in the creative output.

Coloring Pages I've Created

   Recently, at the end of my time at Baldwin Hills Elementary School, I ran into a similar scenario when a substitute in a class I was one-on-one in became overwhelmed by a roomful of bored, hyper students. Keyed up because of a Christmas show we were putting on, I suggested giving them some coloring sheets to do. Since I worked with a Special Needs student in a fifth grade class of 30, I always kept a folder full of coloring and other activity pages on our work shelf. When I showed the sub the pages from the Snoopy Christmas Coloring Book I'd brought to use with my student, and asked her if she wanted me to copy one for the class, she said, "Yes," after choosing the one that also required decorating a Christmas tree.
   "We're going to have a Coloring Contest," she said. "After we've all finished we'll vote for the winner."
    I wish I could say I won, but when all of the entrants were laid out, one of the more talented colorists did.

Coloring Page from the Tranquil Trees Coloring Book

Color can have a huge effect on whatever you're creating."--Carey Jolliffe

   A Hue By Any Other Shade

   Depending on my mood I usually select pages that will feature hues I'm feeling at the moment. For the picture I colored for this blog, from The Tranquil Trees Coloring Book, I followed my usual procedure of selecting a photo to reproduce. Vogue magazine's October 2015 layout Interior Lives was the basis for my palette, and the Peter Pilotto dress and Derek Lam ankle boots, my inspiration. In the photo, Saturated Solution, the caption describes how the off-white dress accented with pink, orange, green and cream "arts-and-crafts embroidery" contrasts effectively against the "forest green" and "Santa Red" interiors.
   From my box of Crayola Crayons I selected green, yellow-green, vert olive, spring green, sea green, and granny smith apple for the leaves at the top of the tree, and brown, tan, chestnut, burnt sienna and tumbleweed for the bark and roots. Lastly I threw in red, orange and blue to fully replicate Pilotto's embroidery.

Monochromatic Magic Contest Entry

Color It Pink

Nothing can steal my joy.--Sarah Ranae Clark 

   For the Dover Publications' Monochromatic Magic coloring contest I chose pink for my entry, a long dress from Flower Fashion Fantasies, because it represents breast cancer awareness. Even though it's always been my favorite color, my illness gave it added significance. Everything came back to me-hospital stays, chemo, labs, etc.,-as I worked on it while sitting on the front steps of 42nd Street Elementary School (the school I was subbing at then) with my colored pencils and crayons.

Breast Cancer Awareness Day Collage

   In October 2016, at Baldwin Hills Elementary School, they decided to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Day instead of Halloween, so they asked everyone to show solidarity and wear pink. I wanted to also celebrate a new chapter in my recovery, so instead of wearing something I already owned I went to Target and bought a lovely orange and pink print blouse and denim Mossimo jeans from the Sale rack. Topping it off with my pink Chanel-esque jacket then accessorizing the blouse with my pink Breast Cancer ribbon scarf I approached the day with as much brightness as one of my coloring pages and with renewed hope for my future.

Adult Coloring Books:

  1. Creative Haven's Flower Fashion Fantasies (
  2. Vive Le Color JAPAN (
  3. ESCAPES: (Various Titles include: Joyful Gardens, Fashion Art, Collage, Mosaics) ( and (
  4. Keep Calm and Color: Tranquil Trees (
  5. Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book
  6. Cancer Treatment Coloring Book: Color Your Way to Health (created by cancer survivor Julie Carmen. Ideal for those going through chemo and other treatments and therapies.
  7. Coloring Through Cancer: An Adult Coloring Book with 30 Positive Affirmations to Encourage Cancer Survivors, by Sarah Ranae Clark
  8. I AM A CANCER Warrior: An Adult Coloring Book for Encouragement, Strength and Positive Vibes, 20 Powerful Mantras To Color (Courageous Coloring)
Coloring Tools:

   I found most of my "coloring tools" at Target and through, but you can also find them at grocery and drug stores if coloring books are available.

  1. Crayola Crayons (48) Preferred by Teachers!
  2. Crayola Colored Pencils Built-in Sharpener (64) Preferred by Teachers?
  3. Multicolored Pencils ( LACMA Gift Shop
  4. Crayola Fine Line Markers (40 Vibrant Colors)
  5. Prisma Color Premier Colored Pencils (72)


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cancer & Careers West Coast Conference

The Cancer & Careers West Coast Conference on Work & Cancer is this Saturday in LA! This FREE daylong event will explore the complexities of balancing treatment/recovery with employment and is open to patients, survivors, caregivers, healthcare professionals and anyone else touched by cancer.
There are still spots open, so register today!…/even…/westcoast-conference

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Doctors Should Listen to Patient Instincts

Check out this post from The New York Times Well Blog by Tara Parker-Pope. Parker-Pope shares the results of a recent study that indicates that the way that patients describe how they feel to their doctors is possibly a better predictor of their health than objective tests. Read more here.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cancer Survivors: Together We Are Less Alone

To read the article by Barbara Tako, the author of "Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools", click here.
Barbara is a survivor of breast cancer and melanoma.

Share your story or leave a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!

Friday, April 1, 2016


By Julia Forth

“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.”
Rebecca Solnit
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities


Writer, historian and activist, Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, originally published in 2004, has been reissued this year.  Although a book exploring political activism, Ms. Solnit’s articulation of what hope is and is not has a correlation to the idea of hope as experienced by people with cancer and their caregivers.  Hope is something that the Cancer Support Community (CSC) advocated for cancer patients and their families back in 1982 when it began as The Wellness Community and when cancer was mostly dread and death.  Dr. Harold Benjamin and his wife Harriet, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s, founded CSC with its free psychosocial services of group support, classes, social activities and education.  The Benjamins knew firsthand the despair that cancer can bring and claimed a space for hope within the arena of life-threatening illness.  The seventies and early eighties were not often times of positive outcomes for cancer patients, or for open discussion of the anxieties that cancer brings to everyone affected by it.

Rebecca Solnit, also the author of Men Explain Things to Me, brings her journalistic eye, deep intellect and activist nature to this topic when she suggests a link between hope and action.  Emily Dickenson wrote, “Hope” is the thing with feathers –  that perches in the soul”.   A true subtlety of life, often lost in the blunt upset of cancer, is that hope stays on the ground with us and lifts us, everything together.  Hope is often thought of as something that safeguards us from gritty reality but, in Rebecca Solnit’s words, it is about “broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act (emphasis added).”

In 2016, treatments have improved, people are living longer and better, and the word “cancer” need not be whispered.  But, no one would deny that cancer does, at the very least, bring anxieties and sometimes a loss of hope.  Dr. Benjamin’s Patient Active Concept, revolutionary in 1982 and still relevant today, specifically encourages cancer patients and their families to partner with their physicians, to not be passive victims during the course of their disease but to take back control—in short, to be active in their own lives, to be active in hope and to welcome the possibility of change. 
Ms. Solnit talks about hope as containing “openings.”  Hope, as providing an opening for action, is exactly what CSC encourages.  Research now shows that CSC’s services of support and outlook of hope can enhance survivorship.  As cancer patients and families look for places to connect with others and for places inside themselves where the “thing with feathers” perches, CSC remains a place of hope.  CSC was created as a vessel for possibilities; it does not promise that everything will be fine but rather that life, at the very least, will perhaps be more vibrant in choosing to live as a hope-fueled, active participant, no matter the outcome. 

Julia Forth is the Executive Director of Cancer Support Community Benjamin Center (CSC)  founded in 1982 as The Wellness Community in Los Angeles and part of an international network of affiliates that offer the highest quality social and emotional support for people with cancer and their families.  To find a CSC in your area, please visit or to learn more about CSC Benjamin Center in Los Angeles, visit or call 310-314-2555.

Monday, March 14, 2016

New Research from Cancer Support Community

Cancer Support Community was at the American Psychosocial Oncology Society's Annual Conference in San Diego, March 3-5, 2016.  
Below is our Program Director, Shannon La Cava, PsyD, (far left) with CSC Headquarter's Vice President of Program Development & Delivery, Vicky Kennedy, LCSW.

To learn more about the APOS conference, visit their conference website.  
Read more about the Cancer Experience Registry here and about CSC's research here

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Refined and Classic: The True Gift Nature Gave Me

Things don't change. You change your way of looking, that's all.
-Carlos Castaneda

When you look at the natural world around you, the first thing you might focus on are the popular choices-a lush pink rose with iridescent drops of dew decorating its petals or a picturesque sunset that turns the sky a painterly shade of red, grey and white. If you've never really looked at the striations of a weathered tree branch or the rough texture of a sun bleached rock you're missing out on the part of nature that reveals its beauty in an alternative way. In French this type of unusual loveliness is called "Jolie laide" or "pretty ugly".

There have been many famous people who've utilized these traits to their advantage, whether it was playing up a distinctive nose like Barbra Streisand, dark skin and a severe haircut like Grace Jones or a rough, but sensuous face, that's simultaneously soft and hard, like Tom Hardy. Fortunately as our society becomes more inclusive and diverse this definition of attractiveness will replace our traditional standard that used to lean towards perfection and conformity and eschew the different and unique.

One day after returning to the bus stop in front of 74th Street Elementary School, a school I subbed at as a "Special Education Trainee Assistant" from January to March I noticed a tree next to the bus bench with a series of large mushrooms growing out of it. Ordinarily I wouldn't notice something like that, but ever since I was diagnosed with Stage II A Breast Cancer in 2010 and had to view my altered body in the mirror daily, I've become more attuned to things I might have ignored because they looked slightly grotesque and unsightly. Now they fascinate me and I study them enough to see their allure.

As I examined the balletic way the exterior of the dark brown and white mushrooms clung to the rustic, splintery trunk of the tree I couldn't help being inspired by the palette of gray and brown. I took a series of photos of this natural art piece, over a period of time, and shared them with the class I was working with at the school. Despite having to leave early, because I was still recovering from kidney stone surgery, I left a xeroxed copy of one of my photos of the tree for the teacher and wore an outfit inspired by the tree.

Transferring the gray and brown color scheme to clothing, I coordinated a gray wool pea coat over a gray tie-front DKNY cardigan, light gray Sharagano button-down blouse and vintage Levi's flares. I then accessorized my outfit with a beige lace and floral turban and beige Guess sneakers. While coordinating this outfit I became a designer, and utilized something that influenced me (the mushrooms attached to the tree), a color scheme that complimented my skin tone (gray and beige), and I found a way to reinterpret and update a pair of 1970's flares by pairing them with a contemporary coat, cardigan, blouse and sneakers.

After I recovered and returned to the class, the teacher told me the class took a mini walking field trip to examine the tree and she taught a lesson about "the cycle of life" which included "producers" (green plants), "metamorphosis" and "photosynthesis", "consumers" and "decomposers". She also told the students to read Fungi by Mary Kay Carson, The Web of Life by Melvin Berger and The Producers by Melissa Stewart.

Throughout this whole journey the main lesson that stayed with me was how reliable and comforting nature is for rejuvenating the creative spirit and soul in times of despair.