On Christmas Day I found myself with my daughter visiting a friend of hers in an Integrative Cancer Treatment Center. This young woman and her roommate gave us a tour of the gardens, the facility, and their room. Before I left, I asked her if I could give her a hug. When we wrapped our arms around each other I felt this boundless love radiating through me and around us. I get cold chills now just remembering it. I wanted more of that!
The very next day I met a woman who told me…You are not here to be an artist you are here as a teacher and a healer, art may be your means but not your purpose. You will never be truly happy until you claim this. I knew she was correct to the depth of my soul.
Several days later a woman walks up to me at the grocery store and tells me about her husband’s illness. She simply confided in me right there in canned goods.
Okay God, I hear the call. I called the president of the hospital back the first of the year and said can we start an artist in residency program. That was more than seven years ago and I'm still there.
Art is a way to healing. Healing is not necessarily a cure, but it is finding peace with your situation. I have come to see that the focus on the project is key. That focus quiets the fear based mind and we can hear our creative voice and even a deeper voice full of insight. The heart rate slows, the blood pressure drops, anxiety lessons and insights come.
At the hospital, I worked primarily with chemotherapy and other infusion patients, those receiving IV meds, antibiotics and blood transfusions.
Time slips by when you are focused on your art. Patients haven’t been aware when their second bag of IV meds was hooked up, that 4 hours had slipped by. One woman said of her weekly treatments, “they have become, my me time, my art time, my creative time. I will miss this when it is over.”
Dignity, dignity is the first thing that may be lost when you put on a hospital gown, the thing that is lost when you feel you have no control. Art is a simple way of giving the patient back some control, a positive focus. It serves the staff patient bond when the patient proudly shares their artwork. Dignity, self-respect, poise, self-worth, pride…pride in their artwork.
Another patient on her first day of chemotherapy shared she was full of anxiety and fear, no idea of what to expect. At the end of her treatment and her art time, she stood to leave and stated, "This was wonderful! I mean not wonderful, but, but, but!" The creative process turned a fearful experience into a positive one, it was a way for her to give voice.
A gift I have received from my early life experiences is a deep capacity for compassion and empathy. I can sit without fear with another in pain and simply be with them. I believe the suffering through and the healing of our own wounds develops compassion.
Here I am now many years down the road having made course corrections along the way. My years in medicine merged with my years in art. I’ve seen a lot and people share with me. I’ve learned so much about human nature and how our outlook affects us. How differently people handle the circumstance that life hands them. Will you wither or will you grow?
You know the signs outside of churches with messages on them? One of my all time favorites is, Worry is the misuse of imagination. I love that. I have noticed in others and also experienced myself… it’s what we think about our situation that causes us the most pain. We can question our stories, is what I'm thinking true? Does this serve me? Is this story creating a better me? Is my imagination being misused? How can I re-focus, maybe by writing, painting, dancing?
Our journey isn’t over until it’s over; there are always more opportunities to grow. The hospital stopped offering chemotherapy and my opportunities to work with patients has been greatly reduced.
However, I was invited by the chaplain to offer art in her Spirituality and Wellness Classes. I continue to organize a rotating exhibit that changes every six weeks. I have coordinated two art purchases at my local hospital and oversaw the installation of the artwork. I am now contracted with three hospitals, bringing the power of art into those environments.
The most common comment I hear about art in the healthcare setting is it brings comfort, comfort to the patients, the staff and visitors. A positive uplifting distraction to distressed hearts and minds.
I close with a quote from a patient:
"It [art] can help take a person who is worried about a loved one out of that state of mind or take a patient who is depressed into a world of beauty and joy.” SJB patient