Creating art inspires cancer patients

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 2:13 p.m. CDT
Caption
In this Oct. 30, 2013 photo, Victoria Manheim, a senior in art from Illinois State University, paints a scene for Community Cancer Center patient Roberta Fuller, while Fuller receives a chemotherapy drug by intravenous drip in Normal. Fuller and Manheim are part of a project entitled Wall of Hope to help cancer patients to express themselves using art. (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Steve Smedley)

NORMAL (AP) — Victoria Manheim, a senior in art from Illinois State University, painted a scene based on a pencil sketch by Roberta Fuller.

Fuller, holding the pencil and sitting beside Manheim, suggested colors as Manheim painted while balancing the canvas on her lap.

"I sketched what gives me hope," said Fuller, 55, of Bloomington.

As Fuller received a chemotherapy drug by intravenous drip, the painting — of the biblical empty tomb in the foreground and Mount Calvary and a sunrise in the background — took shape.

Manheim — using a Styrofoam bowl as her paint pallet — wrote "Eternal Life" at the top of the art.

"What gives me hope is knowing that once this body is done, that isn't the end," said Fuller, who has stage IV breast cancer, meaning it has spread to other organs in the body.

Fuller and Manheim are part of a project — called Wall of Hope — at the Community Cancer Center in Normal to help cancer patients to express themselves using art.

"Instead of focusing on the downside of why I'm sitting here, I'm thinking hopeful thoughts," Fuller said as chemotherapy and art continued concurrently on Wednesday in the infusion therapy area that was packed with patients. "The more hopeful you are, the better you feel and your ability to fight the disease is enhanced."

The Rev. Cheryl Peterson-Karlan, cancer center chaplain, thought of the project after having "wonderful experiences" using art to help patients in a support group. Using $3,000 from the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation to buy materials, she then went to ISU to involve art faculty and students.

Patients and family members, staff members, art faculty and students and artists in the community were invited to use paint or mixed media on canvas to express hope.

Some participants — like Fuller and Manheim — have paired up, with patients sketching their ideas and artists painting for them.

"I love interacting with people and hearing their stories," said Manheim of Oregon. "I like to see what gives them joy and hope."

For example, one throat cancer survivor's symbol of hope was a hamburger because she was looking forward to eating one again. So, Manheim helped her to paint a hamburger. Another patient's symbol of hope was his wife. So Manheim helped him to paint that image.

"When I help people to feel better, it gives me joy," she said.

Other art on temporary display in a waiting room includes a patient who depicted "a road less traveled" to symbolize not only his colon cancer diagnosis but how that diagnosis opened his eyes to see beauty in the world.

Some patients, such as Tami Clark, 54, of Normal, are painting on their own.

Balancing a canvas on her lap as she received infusion therapy to protect her bones from damage from her stage IV breast cancer, Clark painted a bright fall scene depicting a tree losing its leaves and three hearts. The painting was for her sister, who also has cancer, with the leaves representing her sister's hair loss, the hearts representing Clark's sisters and bright colors representing hope for a better quality of life.

"Without hope, we're lost," said Clark, surrounded by other patients also receiving infusion therapy. "I feel strongly about passing on encouragement to people."

As the two-week project ended Friday, Peterson-Karlan expected 70 pieces of art to be completed. ISU interior design students will offer ideas on how to display the art long-term.

The chaplain smiled.

"People want to talk about hope."

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