Program helps cancer patients heal through art

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CHICAGO -- In a tiny room at Swedish Covenant Hospital -- just steps from where patients receive daily doses of life-sustaining treatments -- a study in still life.

Sonia Torres, cancer survivor: “Every Thursday we come.”

Kari Lindholm-Johnson, artist in residence: “It’s instinctual, I believe, once people start doing art and almost a meditative, soothing activity that people come into their own.”

What began as a dark canvas soon comes to life with color. It’s a message not lost on Beverly Treat.

Beverly Treat, cancer survivor: “I couldn’t talk to my husband, nobody. I was locked inside myself, but slowly they have been able to bring me back to myself.”

One particular lesson taught by artist in residence Kari Lindholm-Johnson helped Beverly overcome the depression and anxiety that came with her breast cancer diagnosis earlier this year.

Beverly Treat: “If you’re angry, just let it fly. We took paint and flung it on the canvases. She said you have to look at the beauty of releasing the anxiety and letting go.”

The art class is offered as part of the hospital’s integrative cancer care program. Before, after or during infusions – it’s a respite from the rigors of treatment.

Sonia Torres: “While you’re painting, you’re blocking out everything else, your pain, the arm that you can’t lift, you’re blocking all that out, so it’s tranquilizing.”

The soothing strokes of the brush yield bountiful images. Cancer survivor Sonia Torres comes to paint and offer her support to others.

Sonia Torres: “You get that return of feeling good that somebody else felt good b/c of something you said or you were there to hold their hand when they said something that might have made them feel emotional.”

Doris Laser, cancer survivor: “It was very hard at first to wrap your mind around the diagnosis, and then you realize that you can’t change anything by worrying so you try to think about what can I do? What can I contribute that I might get well?

To her surprise, Doris Laser found exercising her artistic talent brought comfort.

Doris Laser: “I found myself changing from being very apprehensive about coming to being grateful about the treatment. I remember the first time suddenly caring about whether the green and the yellow were exactly right, and I forgot about where I was. I wasn’t in a cancer center, I was just enjoying life.”

The art class and a variety of other programs including massage therapy, meditation and nutrition, are all offered free of charge to patients. The funding comes from grants, individual donors and the Swedish Covenant Hospital Foundation. You can attend a fundraiser, which Dina Bair is emceeing, to help in those efforts. To learn more, go to swedishcovenantfoundation.org/gala

The gala will take place Saturday, October 17, at the Museum of Science and Industry. For more information, contact gala@swedishcovenant.org or call (773) 878-2492.

If you would like donate or bid online for the Gala auction, click here.