To fight cancer, doctors commonly use radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
One Baton Rouge treatment center is also prescribing art.
At Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center, carefully chosen artwork helps soothe patients and their families. And creative programs teaching artistic endeavors — from flower arranging to painting — help them tap into art to heal.
“The cancer experience is often more than what you can put into words,” said Francinne Lawrence, director of survivorship for the cancer center. “It taps into that part of the person that goes deeper than their thoughts. It goes more into the emotional and the spiritual part of them … We try, through beautiful paintings and beautiful stained glass, to tap into that piece of them that can’t always be put into words.”
The Healing Arts program at the center is designed to help patients and their families deal with the stress and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, said Scott Miller, center spokesman.
Last month, the center completed a $23 million expansion and renovation, adding a light-filled atrium to its existing building on Essen Lane and updating every bit of the interior. Original works of art decorate the hallways, waiting rooms and offices.
Patients and their families are creating art as part of the Thrive program that offers exercise, support groups and many other services.
“We want our patients to do more than just survive this experience,” Lawrence said. “We want them to thrive.”
During chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, Cindy Cook began taking art sessions offered by volunteers at the cancer center. The 61-year-old makes colorful mandalas, pattern-based works that some religions use for meditation. While never an artistic person before, she has taken classes in glass etching and flower arranging, too.
“When you’re dealing with cancer, a life-threatening illness, as much positivity as you can have helps you win that battle,” Cook said during a chemotherapy session. “It helps you win that fight.”
Volunteers start art projects with patients, then often sit and talk with them during a two- or three-hour treatment, Lawrence said.
“It’s healing on many different levels,” she said.
In the waiting rooms, patients and their families are offered the option to paint small canvasses that will become tree ornaments in the Christmas season. They are asked to paint their dream for the holidays.
The focal point of the center’s expansion is a gemeaux — a type of stained glass — by local artist Stephen Wilson that rises 22 feet tall in the new atrium. Using broken fragments of glass, Wilson created a purple, yellow and green work that references the swirls of DNA samples. A room created on the back of the glass wall offers a mediation space for patients and their families.
On each floor, photographs by south Louisiana artist C.C. Lockwood grace the elevator banks. The photos depict bayous and cypress trees and the natural world.
Pieces that mimic the natural world also decorate walls throughout the cancer center. A popular work, the mixed media piece called “Waters of the World” blends soothing blues with textures that conjure ripples on water. A series of images that depicts X-rays of flowers, called “Illuminated from Within,” is hung in the T.J. Moran Imaging Center.
“We want to distract them from a painful experience they are going through,” said art consultant Ann Connelly, who was hired to curate the art. “We want to give them a glimmer of hope.”
Such beauty is appreciated, said Jennifer LeBlanc, 39, a breast cancer patient now in remission.
“At Mary Bird Perkins, I could always relate to a piece of art that I could look at going through the facility,” LeBlanc said. “The stained glass is breathtaking.”
The Healing Arts program complements the traditional medical treatments well, said Linda Lee, the cancer center administrator. All the programs, from exercise sessions to support groups, help people deal with lives changed by a cancer diagnosis, she said.
They reflect a less traditional idea of healing, Lawrence said.
“We recognize that not everyone who walks through these doors can have their life saved,” she said. “But they can experience healing.”