Cancer patients find comfort in artistic expression
Jodie Sinnema, edmontonjournal.com
Published: Tuesday, January 09, 2007
When Lee and her son sat down with their chisels to carve their soapstone polar bears, the pressure was off to talk about Lee’s terminal bone-marrow cancer, which she has fought for 10 years.
Lee didn’t have to be the concerned mom, pestering her 12-year-old son about his emotions and staring him down. Instead, art became a pathway for those emotions and thoughts to come out.
“That two-day camp taught me that I don’t need to corner and drill him about his feelings, but rather focus on something else that we both enjoy and let the conversation take care of itself,” Lee wrote to the director of the Arts In Medicine program at the Cross Cancer Institute.
Marilyn Hundleby with artworks created by patients at the Cross Cancer Institute.
John Lucas/Edmonton Journal
“Sometimes we just carve in silence, but I am even grateful for those moments because we are spending time together sharing a common interest. … The biggest gift is that I have found a non-invasive pathway to my son’s heart and I am creating my greatest masterpiece yet.”
Lee, now 44, was diagnosed with cancer when she was only 33 and was told she had two years to live since there is no known cure. Her son, only two at the time, has since grown up thinking chemotherapy, radiation, bone fractures and bone marrow transplants are just part of the norm.
Last year, Lee decided to sign the two of them up for a specialized Arts in Medicine program offered at the Cross Cancer Institute, since communication has become difficult with her “tweenager.”
The program, which has been formally offered for 10 years, is the only one of its kind and size in Canada to offer a dozen art choices including painting, photography, poetry, choir, soapstone carving and fibre and bead arts to help cancer patients work through their anger and confusion, said psychologist and program director Marilyn Hundleby.
As opposed to art therapy, where psychologists and therapists help patients read their deep emotions by examining the arts-in-medicine program’s use the artistic process itself to help patients see the world with new eyes.
Professional artists lead the group, then a psychologist, social worker or art therapist have patients write journal entries about what the art means in their life journey.
“This isn’t about craft, it’s about the process, about creating art and understanding one’s experience,” said Hundleby, whose program receives $140,000 from the Alberta Cancer Foundation each year. “It allows us to problem solve, to tap into wisdom, to come to an understanding where we can move through a difficult illness with a greater sense of control and our own power to make things happen that are beneficial to us.”
Oftentimes, patients think they can’t possibly paint or carve a sculpture. Then they see the beautiful end result.
“If I can do this, then the potential and possibilities become apparent,” Hundleby said. “If I can transform stone into something beautiful, what else can I