Breast cancer survivors heal through art therapy

Bead by plastic bead, these hands are stringing together a story â?? one of hope, strength and survival.

"It's allowing people to process. It's not just a beaded bracelet,â?? said Gail Singer, an art therapist at McLaren Cancer Institute.

Today is she teaching her art therapy class â?? full of breast cancer patients and survivors â?? to make a bracelet that represents each studentâ??s breast cancer journey. Like a beaded bracelet, Singerâ??s students are bound together by a common thread.

â??Their fears might be someone else's fears,â?? Singer said, â??and their anxieties might be someone else's anxieties and joys.â??

Singer is a licensed professional counselor and registered art therapist. Sheâ??s an expert in her field, but she's also walked in these women's shoes.

â??I was diagnosed with [breast] cancer about six years ago,â?? Singer said. â??[Art therapy] was so helpful and so beneficial for myself, I could really see how this was going to be helpful for other people.â??

Now Singer teaches cancer survivors to heal through art. She also takes her art therapy classes to the Flint Institute of Arts and to the McLaren medical staff.

â??Art has always been used as a way of expressing strong emotions, and trying to deal with those emotions in a way that is more powerful sometimes than using words,â?? said Singer, who has a different activity planned for each art therapy class.

Carol Cranston beat her cancer more than 20 years ago, before the words â??artâ?? and â??therapyâ?? were ever used together. It didn't take this former interior decorator long to find her best medicine.

â??I found art therapy, and I'm like, â??It's the best-kept secret ever.â??"

Cranstonâ??s new calling is to become a registered art therapist like Singer. Sheâ??s gathering hours as a post-grad intern after receiving her degree from Wayne State University, and she teaches alongside Singer.

â??Along with cancer comes fear, questions about living, death, big questions,â?? Cranston said. Questions, she said, art can help resolve.

â??I hear the word peace a lot, or contentment,â?? Singer said of her classes.

The women seem to enjoy making their breast cancer bracelets in todayâ??s class, despite the painstaking effort and impeccable concentration it requires. You need nimble fingers to get the string through the bead.

But in the end, the hand-crafted bracelets unique to their artists - that express the trials and triumphs in their fight against breast cancer - is far more valuable than one you can buy at the jewelry store.

â??That you can't put a price on,â?? Cranston said with a big grin.

For more information on the Art Therapy program, visit, or call Gail Singer at (810) 342-4206.