After surviving her brief bout with breast cancer in 2014, Natalie Justice was left with the same question she said many who defeat the disease find themselves asking: "What's next?"
"We can sometimes get so entrapped with our circumstances that it's hard to look past it," said Justice, now an associate pastor at Ooltewah United Methodist Church. "We're basically stuck in that dark place, and you feel like you're fighting the battle alone — even after years of being a survivor."
But it doesn't have to be that way, she added.
On Thursday, Jan. 18, Justice is holding the first meeting of her weekly support group for cancer survivors and caregivers. Unlike other encounter groups, the "Creative Recovery" class at OUMC sets itself apart by using artistic expression as an outlet to help attendees through the healing process, said Justice.
Justice discovered the healing power of the arts through community theater during her recovery in Jonesborough, Tenn. By participating in musical productions like "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Miracle on 34th Street," she was able to find joy, community and a sense of purpose that helped her push through her depression.
"To be able to create something beautiful — not perfect, but beautiful — it's just a true blessing," said Justice, who is now writing her dissertation on the restorative benefits of the arts for her doctorate program. "It's also a reminder that we are not alone, because when you are creating something, you feel like you're a part of something much bigger."
Each class will start with group activity that incorporates drama, drawing, writing or music, and end with a sharing session where attendees can open up about what they've been through.
The sessions will be confidential, Justice stressed; though they aren't meant to replace counseling, she added. Instead, they will help survivors support each other by sharing coping mechanisms, ways to deal with grief, or helpful information on other topics, like how to explain cancer to children.
While Justice said she hopes God will speak through the class, she said it is not a Bible study and stressed that it is open to anyone of any faith.
Her overall goal is that each person leaves the class knowing they have a safe place where they don't have to feel alone and having learned new, unique ways to tackle their grief and depression.
"They're going to find great joy, healing and a sense of belonging that they may not be finding right now," she said.
The class will be held every Thursday at OUMC from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Attendees are also welcome to stop by at 5:30 p.m. for a free dinner followed by a joint worship session at 6:15 p.m. with others who are part of the church's Recovery at Ooltewah ministry.
Child care will be provided.
Email Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.