Program brings alive artistic side of cancer patients getting chemotherapy

lfabian@macon.comMay 22, 2013 

  • 2013 Celebration of Life Art Exhibit

    Cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, friends and family members can submit artwork, writing or poetry. For information on how to enter, visit www.cancerlifecenter.org or call (478) 633-8537.
    Completed entry forms must be submitted by May 31. Entries are due June 3.
    The exhibit will be held June 7-28 at the Middle Georgia Art Association Gallery at 2330 Ingleside Ave.
    An opening reception is scheduled from 5:30-7:30 p.m. June 7.

Vincent Van Gogh once said the only time he felt truly alive was when he was painting.

Cancer patients at the W.T. Anderson Infusion Center are discovering that for themselves.

Chemotherapy often zaps the life out of those who sit for hours as medicine drips slowly into their veins. But those battling the deadly disease are awakening their creative sides during treatment.

Rosetta Jones, of Dublin, recently painted rose-colored flowers at The Medical Center of Central Georgia during her treatment for stomach cancer.

“I told them this is the Benadryl special, I said, because I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said looking at the painting. “But it came out nice, right?”

Her sister Eve Wilson painted hydrangeas on a bamboo bowl while she waited to drive Jones home Tuesday.

Wilson hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since she was in the third or fourth grade.

Volunteer Mary Parks has taught her several techniques through the artist in residence program funded by a grant from the Livestrong Foundation.

Wilson also was working on quilted fabric in a collaborative piece combining the talents of others.

“It looks raggedy to me, but (Parks) makes me feel real good,” Wilson said as she stroked shades of green on the cream-colored material.

Parks stresses there is no right or wrong when creating art.

“If you just go with the flow like that, no mistakes, just enjoy the moment -- art becomes a beautiful thing,” she said. “It gets their minds on something other than what their lives are going through right now.”

Parks spends two days a week teaching art to patients and their caregivers.

Nurses have documented a drop in blood pressure for those painting during chemotherapy.

Jones was physically struggling Tuesday but took joy in watching her sister paint.

“It’s like her mind disappears and she just goes on with it,” said Jones, who is a grandmother. “When I first came in here, I was really down, but thank God I’m up.”

Joe and Betty Cotton traveled from Roberta to Macon for Tuesday’s chemotherapy treatment.

Joe Cotton decided to give the art therapy a try for the first time.

Parks traced his hand several times on a bamboo bowl, creating various intersecting shapes for him to color into a brilliant mosaic.

She set up his favorite colors in a bright palette of acrylic paint.

Cotton was a little tentative at first, but quickly started filling in the shapes.

“It’s something that’s relaxing you a bit more than just sitting here,” he said, as his wife returned to the treatment room after running an errand.

“That’s going to be really nice,” she told him. “Dude, I didn’t know you could paint.”

It wasn’t long before she grabbed another brush and started mixing purple and pink together to make a brilliant plum color.

“I didn’t come to take your job, honey, just to make it bloom,” she told him.

“I understand,” he replied as they started working together on the bowl.

The enthusiasm is contagious.

Jill Hancock, the manager of the infusion center, said the program has really caught on since it began last fall.

“We have patients who will not schedule their appointments now unless it’s a day Mary is here,” Hancock said. “It’s awesome. It’s been a blessing. If you could have a patient say they look forward to chemotherapy, that speaks volumes.”

The program inspired one Cordele woman to start selling her work, Parks said.

Many of the patients’ paintings will be on display in the 2013 Celebration of Life art exhibit June 7-28 at the Middle Georgia Art Association on Ingleside Avenue.

The Cancer Life Center at The Medical Center of Central Georgia is soliciting works from anyone who has been touched by cancer.

Submissions from all ages and skill levels are welcome, as are all art forms, including painting, sculpture, pottery, knitting, quilting, poetry, writing and photography.

Robin Marshburn plans to enter two pictures of her mother, whom she lost to pancreatic cancer nearly a dozen years ago.

It was the first time cancer took aim at her immediate family.

“I look in her eyes in the pictures I have in the house and say, ‘You’re a very sweet mom,’” said Marshburn, a resource navigator for the American Cancer Society.

She sees the art exhibit as a way to keep her mother’s memory alive and has restored a picture of her mother making gingerbread at the Mossy Creek Arts and Crafts Festival and also framed a photo of her diploma.

Marshburn is a big fan of the artist in residence program that has been recently expanded to the Cancer Well-Fit program at The Wellness Center through another Livestrong Foundation grant.

“It’s just a way of relieving stress and bringing out their creative side,” Marshburn said.

The Cottons resurrected memories of grade school.

“It actually feels good,” Betty Cotton said. “You don’t just sit here and twiddle your thumbs while you get chemo. You think, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to have an art piece when I get through.’”

Parks has found the program very rewarding, too.

“I’ve just met so many other families. Until we cross over into others’ lives, we don’t know what others’ journeys are all about.”

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