Helping Cancer Survivors through Art
Calming Unsettled Waters
Cancer survivors can find themselves in a ghostly (and ghastly) space that is not quite grounded in the reality of yesterday or the hard presence of today. Even for long-term survivors, the anticipation of the “other shoe” dropping is an ever-present hurdle to glide or climb over, depending on the day – or the hour.
Dozens of cancer survivors of all lengths and strengths put worry and uncertainty on hold for a few hours July 5 at MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s joyful kickoff of PaintFest® America, a 50-day event sponsored by The Foundation for Hospital Art to reach families, patients, and staff of cancer facilities through artwork. To view photos from the event, please click here.
The concept is deceptively simple and calming: dip the slim paintbrush in the miniature paint bottle that matches the pre-drawn, color-coded designs on canvas stretched over square wooden frames, and let your mind find its safe place.
A Welcome Distraction
Beverly Pollard, of Northeast Washington, a two-year survivor of breast cancer, found PaintFest® a welcome distraction from a friend’s breast cancer surgery, which was taking place at the Hospital Center, while she waited and painted.
As she carefully placed long gold strokes on the canvas depicting a mountain scene, Ms. Pollard explained she was diagnosed with breast cancer during a mammogram the day she returned from a mission trip to Africa. After her diagnosis, the mother of four foster children said, “I asked God to show me a purpose. But, you have to be careful about what you ask God to use you for! He asked me to be an encourager.” She smiled, gratefully. One of her great joys in life is to help friends with cancer find their purpose.
Upper Marlboro resident John Belk took time off from work and made the trip simply to give thanks and “give back” a measure of the encouragement he received during his 44 radiation treatments and six months of hormone therapy for prostate cancer. Clad in the thin white plastic protective apron, he spent the better part of an hour in quiet meditation, deliberately painting inside the lines of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Family members are cancer survivors, too. Regina Zellars of Clinton, Md., was most grateful for the space to calm her mind, as her 26-year-old daughter was taking chemotherapy for mycosis fungoides, a form of T-cell lymphoma. “It’s therapy for me,” Ms. Zellars said, smiling as she bent over a square of canvas featuring tropical fish. “I am so happy to see you all out here. You need to get away in your mind sometimes.”
Survivorship has been an interesting and creative place for artist Anna U Davis. Born in Sweden, the 41-year-old District resident was diagnosed with stage 2 multifocal invasive breast cancer at age 37. Her art has been an important outlet for her emotional well being. She began drawing a journal, a series of works depicting her journey.
“It was difficult to go back and re-live it,” she said of the project. “The fear gets less, but there are moments….” Ms. Davis has partnered with her husband Peter on the project. He is creating raised wood cuttings from her artwork.
A History of Helping
For more than 30 years, The Foundation for Hospital Art has been dedicated to “softening the hospital environment with colorful paintings, wall murals and ceiling tiles,” according to Scott Feight, executive director of the foundation. The 48 canvases will create eight murals that will be sent to hospitals in the D.C. area and around the country.
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