How Having a Creative Outlet Helped Me Cope During Cancer

Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Ed Hartman is an award-winning, accomplished composer, performer, and educator. He received his Bachelor of Music from Indiana University and has been involved with the film and music communities in the Pacific Northwest for decades. He creates music drawn from many styles, genres, and cultures. His music has been heard in many films and shows, including The Blind Side, Twilight Zone, and Stranger Things. You can follow Ed on YouTube.

As a musician and composer, I was completely unaware of the world of multiple myeloma until it hit me like a freight train. In the fall of 2021, I went to my doctor to get an annual physical, and I had some minor issues going on. Over the next few months, various aches and pains started to move around my body. By the end of the year, I was diagnosed with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), which can develop into multiple myeloma. Then, in the beginning of 2022, I received more intensive tests, including a bone biopsy, which revealed that the MGUS had progressed to multiple myeloma.

Certainly, the moment of diagnosis was tremendously intense and emotional. But as much as it was a shock to me, watching the people around me fall apart because of my diagnosis was equally devastating.

For the next 6 months following my diagnosis, I received a lot of treatments, including chemotherapy and a bone marrow/stem cell transplant. My health care team has been absolutely spectacular, and I have received incredible support from my wife, friends, and family. Overall, I am doing better today, but having cancer has taken its toll on me mentally and physically. One of the things that has helped me cope the most with my diagnosis is being able to express myself creatively.

How finding creative outlets has helped me cope with cancer

My ability to make money was seriously affected by my cancer diagnosis. I teach, compose, and record music for a living, and my capacity to do all of those things was severely impacted by the disease. What the disease was not able to do, however, was keep me from creating things like music and occasional videos and writing about my experiences in a private blog. During cancer, I have found that my time is always being taken away by things like appointments, labs, and tests. This is sometimes referred to as “time toxicity,” which is a concept I learned about from a multiple myeloma specialist I met. I learned that you have to carve out as much time for normalcy in your life with this disease as you can.

For me as a composer, I found normalcy in creating music. I write music for TV and film, and I can always find music that I like to write for a project. I have still been able to do some music writing during cancer, although bone pain can get in the way a bit. Writing my blog has also helped me control the emotions I have experienced during cancer. If you are dealing with cancer, that is something I heartily recommend. By writing about my experiences myself, I can control the information about my situation completely and not feel like I need to personally respond in detail to emails and calls. I even started to add “memes” to my posts, which allowed me to laugh with my readers about the insanity of what was going on. By finding humor in multiple myeloma, I have been able to control my anger at the situation.

By combining my creative process with my health journey, I have also been able to come up with things that are quite unique and creatively satisfying. For example, I wrote a piece of music specifically about multiple myeloma called, “MM Blues (Multiple Myeloma Blues).” I had a lot of fun writing, performing, and recording it, and I’ve heard from many people with multiple myeloma who have enjoyed it. A recent comment liked the fact that the song is about the disease itself, including real symptoms, tests, and treatments. These can be taboo subjects to talk about, especially with cancer.

Overall, I’ve found that being creative has been the key for my mental and physical health during cancer.

Telling your story during cancer

The biggest decision I had when writing my song and starting my blog was whether I should do it. I worried that when I told everyone about my diagnosis, they wouldn’t want to interact with me anymore. While multiple myeloma is not contagious physically, many people are not comfortable with disease in general. It can remind us of our own mortality, and many would rather be in denial, which I completely understand.

But during cancer, I learned how important it is to bring those around you closer into your life. Disease can create a tremendous sense of loneliness, and you will need mental and physical support systems in place around you. All of my loved ones wanted to help, but few knew how to. So I had to tell them what I needed. I found that the best way to do that was to be honest with everyone I knew, and I would in turn get that support back from my team, including my doctors, nurses, family, and friends. 

If you are interested in telling your story, either to your family and friends or a wider audience, my advice would be to be creative with your communications. Be an artist, musician, writer, dancer, videographer, or whatever works for you to tell your story. You will feel a lot more in control of your life, too. Even this relatively short article has already recharged me to move on to the next adventure.

Today, I view my multiple myeloma as the ultimate super villain: invisible, emotionless, and seemingly able to do whatever it wants, anytime it wants. I can hit back though. If I am successful at creating things in life and enjoying my life, this is my form of fighting back. So whatever you do, creatively or otherwise, keep up with it. It’s worth every minute.

The author has no relationships to disclose relevant to this content.

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