Art of healing
By Anthony D. Alonzo Post-Tribune correspondent June 15, 2012 3:48PM
Participants work on their projects during the art therapy class at the Cancer Resource Centre Saturday, June 2, 2012. The holistic support facility in Munster, Ind., includes a walk-through garden. | Anthony D. Alonzo~For Sun-Times Media
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Updated: June 15, 2012 4:14PM
‘I’m staying here. It’s too nice to go,” said JoAnne Martinez, while working on an art project at the Cancer Resource Centre garden in Munster.
One of 10 women who regularly participate in monthly expressive art therapy classes for those affected by cancer, Martinez believes that a holistic, or whole person, approach is the best medicine for the ups and downs of the journey with cancer.
Martinez, who said she is fighting a recurrence of breast cancer, sat just down the brick path from fellow Highland resident and classmate Mary Palmer. Palmer would draw in her sketchbook and then pause to mediate.
“You don’t realize until you’re in the process of the art that you’re doing, that you’re forgetting all the stress,” said Palmer, a third-year CRC student who is cured of her cancer. “I never drew, but I’m finding I like it.”
Enlisting resources outside the traditional field of oncology to address body, mind and soul, some cancer patients focus on adding nutritional supplements to their diet. They might read every motivational book they can find and make certain that supportive people stay in their lives. Many take time to pray.
Since March 2008, licensed mental health counselor Amanda Wyatt has coordinated art therapy sessions at the Centre to help those affected by cancer express what’s going on with them psychologically and spiritually.
“I just want to be able to provide people with the opportunity to get connected with their spirit, and not get so connected with their illness,” said Wyatt, who is one of only 15 board certified art therapists in Indiana. “There’s so much more to them and their lives.”
Wyatt’s class is one of the more recent additions to the Munster nonprofit’s offerings. Opened in 2003 at 926 Ridge Road, the Cancer Resource Centre was launched with the support of Community Healthcare System physicians and staff members, and is funded by donations and grants, in-kind donations and volunteer support.
The backdrop for the June 2 art therapy class was the lush greenery adjacent to the Centre’s office. Members took advantage of a sunny, mild day to explore the facility’s walk-through garden.
Under a canopy of mature oak trees and among hardy flower shoots and a flowing, man-made brook, the mostly inexperienced artists translated the vistas onto paper. Lisa Kolodziej, 26, selected a spot on a stone ledge. She watched the water run over river pebbles and sketched the oval-shaped stones in detail.
Kolodziej, a Hammond resident, shared that her cancer diagnosis — lymphoma — arrived when she was only 12. A lifetime of learning and coping recently inspired her to pursue a master’s degree in art therapy. She described the garden as a peaceful and inspiring setting.
Later, guided “witnessing,” or the telling of the emotions behind the paintings and sketches, allowed group members to be heard and validated. Kolodziej and other group members said there have been tears shed and laughter shared with their art class “family.”
And Wyatt said that the process of noticing beauty and discovering a creative voice in the midst of a person’s concerns over surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments is invaluable.