Patients talk about art therapy at Mater Cancer Care Centre

On Wednesday mornings, a group of women gather in a room at Mater Cancer Care Centre. A trolley is wheeled in, filled with supplies. The woman behind the trolley is not a nurse but an art therapist. Instead of bandages, swabs and rubber gloves, the trolley contains tubes of paint, brushes and pastels. The other women in the room are cancer patients. A Mater Cancer Care Nurse comes in and gives each patient a hug to say hello. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed. Everyone takes a seat and the Art Therapy session begins.


Most of the women in the room are waiting for chemotherapy treatment. The drips cannot be made up ahead of time because the recipient needs to have a blood test first. Sometimes a treatment session can be delayed because the number of white cells in the patient’s blood is too low. So you get there and then you wait. Which is where the Art Therapy sessions come in.

More than just a pleasant way to pass the time, creative expression is a proven complementary therapy for cancer patients. Relief from stress and anxiety is among the reported benefits, as is bonding with other women in the same situation. 83% of patients reported that the art therapy process allowed them to concentrate on something positive*.

Participant Patricia, who sometimes attends sessions with her 15-year-old daughter, tells us:

“I was first introduced to Art Therapy in 2011—back when I couldn’t even draw a stick figure! Now I actually look forward to coming to treatment. It takes my mind off what I’m really here for.”

“Sandra [the art therapist] brings out talents you never knew you had. The time goes really quickly and before you know it, the session is over and it’s time for chemo.”

“Being creative makes you relax and zone out. At times, I’ve been so lost in the moment I’ve dipped the paintbrush in my cup of coffee!”

“Without meaning to, our sessions become counselling sessions. Once the art starts, we open up and have a chat. We feel like we can tell each other anything.”


Then we hear from Lynne, who’s seated at the head of the table.

“I’m fairly artistic by nature—I used to be a primary school teacher. Our art therapy sessions are my way of coping. When you’re worried about results, it’s nice to have a pleasant distraction.”

“The sessions make coming here better. You can chat with other people and find out about different treatments.”

“It’s a lot of light-hearted fun and so rewarding. There are paintings all over my house.”

Art Therapist Sandra says:

“There can are up to six people in open studio session. I offer advice on processes, but the main thing is for everyone to express their thoughts and feelings. There’s a lot of laughter as well as tears.”


In another part of Mater Cancer Care Centre, Cheryl is working on her art project in a chemotherapy chair.

“I found out about Art Therapy when I was doing a Mindfulness course, which is another form of complementary therapy offered by Mater Cancer Care Centre.”

“It was something new for me. We started with a simple finger ‘labyrinth’ and went from there. My first attempt was a sunflower. Such a lovely, happy, hopeful image! I still have it hanging up on the wall at home.”

“Our art therapist, Sandra, is just amazing. She’s so supportive. We make collages with great meaning behind them.”  

“One of my favourites is a tribute to mindfulness. It has a healing image of a tropical island with a woman’s silhouette superimposed on it, leading into a calming deep sea picture, which in turn leads into a cool green rainforest.”

“My wonderful art therapy participants and I are so grateful to everyone who takes part in Dry July this year. Your support helps keep Mater Cancer Care Centre’s Art Therapy program afloat. As you can see, cancer patients find these creative complementary therapies hugely soothing and beneficial. Your support makes a great difference to their stress levels and the healing process in general. Without you, sessions like art, music and mindfulness therapy wouldn’t exist—instead, patients waiting for chemo might be sitting in a waiting room worrying about their treatment. On behalf of the Art Therapy Program participants and myself, thank you so much for your continued support.” - Sandra  


*Report on Integrative Oncology Services Art Therapy Program as a part of the treatment for cancer patients offerings at Mater Cancer Care Centre (MCCC)



The Day Treatment Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital is an outpatient unit for individuals receiving cancer and/or supportive treatments.  The Unit is state of the art, bright and modern with comfortable recliner chairs and personal TV’s. Next to the Unit is a courtyard that offers opportunity for natural day light and view of green.

Soon after opening the Unit, staff realised the courtyard was not accessible to patients.  Consulting rooms face the courtyard and the bamboo was planted with the intention of creating privacy.  However bamboo tends to grow tall without leaves on their lower areas.  This means there is no privacy for patients being examined at the consulting rooms. A glass screen and water feature have been constructed and are awaiting installation, thanks to Dry July funds.

Staff and patients of the Day Treatment Unit asked for enhancement in the courtyard design features to allow for the space to be more accessible and create privacy buffer for the consulting rooms that also face the courtyard. The planted bamboo in the courtyard was found not to be appropriate.

People spoke about the soothing property of water.  Due to the difficulties in having a real water feature, a mosaic was designed by artist Angela Nashaat to bring the idea of a pond into the courtyard.  Thanks to Dry July funding, Angela was contracted and 8 m mosaic pond created for the courtyard.  The work is ready for installation, only waiting for the removal of the bamboo and preparation of the base where the mosaic will be laid.


A glass screen was designed by Health and Arts Research Centre, Inc. to integrate a privacy screen that has aesthetic values from both the consulting rooms and the courtyard.

The work was done in consultation with staff and has been produced.  At the moment it is seating in the manufactures warehouse in Melbourne waiting for Thiess to do the concrete footings to hold the glass.