Archives for October 2012

Voice of America & Tracy’s Kids

Susan Logue from Voice Of America  recently did a profile of Tracy’s Kids entitled “Artful Therapy Helps Children Cope with Cancer. ” Below you can find the article she wrote as well as view the video that Voice Of America made at Tracy’s Kids in Georgetown Hospital’s Lombardi Cancer Center.

Artful Therapy Helps Kids Cope (VIDEO)

Artful Therapy Helps Kids Cope with Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating, especially when the patient is a child. 

But art therapy is making it easier for some patients who go to Georgetown Hospital’s Lombardi Cancer Center for treatment. 

Calming influence

Alesia Allen, 10, is all smiles, even as she helps the nurse draw a syringe of her blood.

Although she has finished her chemotherapy, she returns to Georgetown Hospital for regular check-ups. She’s been coming here ever since arriving in the United States from Russia earlier this year.

“I like this place,” Alesia says. She enjoys drawing, painting and playing a fashion design game on an iPad.

The blood draw is almost an afterthought for Alesia now, but her father, Larry Allen, says she was scared the first time she came here, based on her hospital experience in Russia.

“Medically it was OK, but in every other aspect it wasn’t,” he says.

According to Allen, Alesia was strapped into a bed during her treatments in Russia and was told the cancer was her fault.

“The first time we walked in here, six months ago, the art therapy is what kept her calm,” Allen remembers. “Even when she looked like she was going to have a meltdown, Tracy helped her keep it together.”


Tracy’s Kids

Tracy Councill is the art therapist who works with Alesia and other kids like her. She founded Tracy’s Kids at Georgetown Hospital 20 years ago.  Since then, the pediatric art therapy program has been replicated at three other hospitals in the Washington area, as well as one in Texas.

“Just engaging in the art process can be very grounding and relaxing in a really scary place,” Councill says.

The clinic doesn’t look scary. It was designed so art would be the first thing patients see when they enter. There are paintings, drawings and craft projects everywhere.  Even the ceiling tiles are covered with pictures.

Most of the art is bright and cheerful, but there are darker works.

“We get a lot of monsters,” Councill says. She believes they are symbolic of the anger young cancer patients experience.  “A lot of times when patients are going through treatment, they really want to be good. They know their parents are sad, and they are causing everybody a lot of trouble. The art process opens them up and gives them an avenue where they can put their darker feelings and anger, because they have a lot to be angry about.”

No one is depicting monsters today. While he receives a transfusion for aplastic anemia, Akele Carpentier creates a model of an amusement park out of cardboard and modeling clay.

He comes here twice a week to get transfusions through the port in his chest. “It’s hard not to remember that I have a port in my chest.”

But designing a fantasy helps, Councill says.

“When a kid does a process like that, I think of it actually as they are creating a little world.  It’s a way of using their imagination to take them outside of the hospital and put them in another place.”

Lasting impact

Dr. Aziza Shad, who heads Georgetown’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, can’t imagine caring for her patients without the art therapy program.

“I think children who are emotionally comfortable with their diagnosis and who have emotional support stay fewer days in the hospital. I honestly truly believe that,” she says. “And I think more importantly when they are done with treatment for cancer, they tend to adjust better.”

Whether that’s true or not, it’s clear that art therapy has improved these patients’ quality of life, by helping them cope with their disease and its treatment.

From all of us at Tracy’s Kids, thank you Susan!

Happy Halloween!

We’ve been making lots of monsters and having Halloween fun around here!

Cow Story

I want to share a particular picture that a little boy did with me because it is about the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, which is observed this year on October 26-29. According to CNN, “Eid al-Adha commemorates when God appeared to Abraham — known as Ibrahim to Muslims — in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience. As Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and gave him a sheep to kill in place of his son. A version of the story also appears in the Torah and in the Bible’s Old Testament.” (http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/26/world/eid-5-things/index.html?npt=NP1)

 

Of course I had heard the story of Abraham and Isaac many times, but I wasn’t thinking about it when a little guy in the clinic began enthusiastically drawing a picture. It started with a cow, and evolved into a picture telling the story of sacrificing a cow–part of his family’s tradition that he had witnessed when visiting relatives back home. After he finished the picture I asked him to tell me about it, and he told the story of the sacrifice on Eid, and pointed out the extended family members gathered for the celebration. The United States is a melting pot, and Washington, DC is an international city. It is really a delight for me to learn about another culture through the eyes of a small boy. Even though he has been through so much in his treatment and recovery, he is full of curiosity and enthusiasm, and I love that he wanted to share this story with me.

Elizabeth Burks: Becoming an art therapist…continued

Although I somehow knew in the back of my mind that art therapy was where I would ultimately find my place in life, the journey there was much less than straight forward.  After college, there was no way I was ready to jump right back into graduate school, so I worked for several years in retail position that required a large amount of creativity with paper goods.  My favorite part of the job was encouraging people to experiment with art materials and to help them feel empowered through instruction and inspiration in any art endeavor.  Eventually, I felt I needed to move away from retail and more toward the aspect of my job that had left me feeling fulfilled. 

I applied to graduate programs and was accepted to the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, IL.  I especially like the emphasis Adler placed on addressing issues of social exclusion, sending its students into underserved areas of the community for internships.  As I started practicing art therapy as an intern in my second year of graduate school, I was fortunate enough to be placed in an urban hospital working primarily with children.  It was here that I developed the desire to continue working with kids challenged by life-altering illnesses, ultimately leading me to find Tracy’s Kids!

Just Tryan It

Earlier this month Ryan Darby was recognized as one of ABC 7’s Harris Heroes! We wanted to congratulate Ryan, who is a member of the Tracy’s Kids family at Lombardi, and share his story for anyone who missed it on the news.  Be sure to also check out this link to the video on ABC 7’s site!

Just Tryan It helping families deal with childhood cancer

Ryan Darby says treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia can be tough. He gets headaches, pain in his knees and pain in his back.

 “It was hard in the beginning, but I just kept working through it,” Ryan says.

When he has to stay in the hospital, he says his family and friends help him through it. He says they were always there for him, watching movies and bringing him games when he was down.

That support inspired him and his mother to start a foundation.

“We’re one of the more fortunate families,” Ryan says. “We can afford gas and food but some families can’t so we have to help out.”

The foundation is called “Just Tryan It.”

For three years, it has held an annual triathlon for kids to raise money to help children with cancer.

This year, 350 participants raced, raising $125,000.

Ryan recently presented a check to Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, where he’s being treated.

“It takes a little bit of the load off for somebody else so they can be with their child and there’s nothing more important than that,” Mollie Darby, Ryan’s mother says.

Doctors agree.

“They don’t have to worry about where next meal is coming or if lose health insurance or who is going to take care of the other children at home,” Dr. Aziza Shad, director of the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Blood & Marrow Transplantation Program at Medstar Georgetown.

Bernice Graham says Just Tryan It has allowed her to be with her 7-year-old daughter Kenyah in the hospital.

“When you’re a single mom and go from working to not working, taking care of three kids at the time to have someone out there that understands … it’s amazing,” she says.

And Ryan says he’s “just tryan” to make treatment easier for others and his work is far from finished.

“I feel like it’s my call,” Ryan says.

http://wj.la/Ra3Bqd

 

Way to go, Ryan. We’re proud of you.

Thanks, ABC7.

Kailee’s Run–Thank-you Kailee!

 Every Spring since 2008, the Ashburn, VA community has come together to honor Kailee Vance, a young cancer patient who has inspired a whole community. Kailee’s Run, which is held in the neighborhood around Newton-Lee Elementary School, combines a 5K Fun Run and a 2-mile walk.

 As the Kailee’s Run website says: “The race will be held in Kailee’s honor, with all race proceeds going to Tracy’s Kids (www.tracyskids.org), an organization that helped Kailee through her tough times at Georgetown Hospital.”

 Kailee continues to be a creative and prolific artist—and she even runs the race herself now that she has finished treatment! She is back at school and doing great, but the other day when she came to the clinic for a checkup she handed me a check to Tracy’s Kids for $5,000 from the 2012 run.

 Thank-you, Kailee—and thank-you to all her friends and family who come together to support the work of Tracy’s Kids.

Elizabeth Burks – How I became an art therapist!

For as long as I can remember, I have used art as a means to explore my self and the world around me.  I especially realized the value and benefit of art making as a teenager, grappling with the awkwardness and confusion that comes with personal growth during the transition to young adulthood.  I began to discover the power of art as a tool for communication.  It was so much easier to communicate my thoughts and feelings when I could refer to a tangible piece of expressive art. 

 In college, I had a very difficult time choosing a major – a decision that in retrospect should have been quite straightforward.  My parents encouraged me to pursue art, but to set myself up so that I could successfully support myself after graduating.  When I finally realized that all of the classes that interested me were in the psychology department, I had my answer.  I majored in psychology and minored in art, a combination that was a perfect fit for me. 

 Growing up, I had never known that art therapy was a professional field of work.  Throughout my own art making endeavors, I really felt as though I had stumbled upon something brilliant – the use of art as a catalyst for introspection and processing of emotion and life events, big or small.  I couldn’t help but wonder how the field of psychology wasn’t all over this!  It was not until flipping through a catalogue of graduate classes that I simultaneously had my “AHA!” moment and discovered that I had, in fact, not been the first person to discover art therapy.  

 To be continued…

Symbolic Runner

During our biweekly psychosocial rounds the social worker and I will collaborate on a staff art directive and one psychosocial aspect of our patients.  Our most recent meeting centered on the Ghanaian culture.  Having a multicultural patient population means the staff is often exposed to a variety of Faiths, practices, and social manners unlike their own. The best way to help give appropriate care to each family is to learn some of the customs.  the social worker and I became aware that we had quite a large group of families from Africa, particularly Ghana.  We decided that while she gave us a brief overview of the culture, focusing on their medical practices and beliefs, I would have the doctors and nurses stamp a runner.  The stamps were created from foam using an Ashanti symbols template.  After I explained the meanings of the various symbols, the staff were allowed to pick any of the stamps to add to the runner.  The next day two different staff members commented on how the addition of art with a cultural spin really enhanced the meeting.  They also requested more art directives during the meetings.  I know activating both sides of my brain, with art and learning, helps me to remember the learning.  I hope this symbolic runner helps us to be more culturally aware.

Senator Arlen Specter

On February 15, 2006 Tracy’s Kids presented our First Annual Courage Award to Senator Arlen Specter during our annual “And the Winner Is…” fundraiser. The Courage Award recognizes a public figure who serves as a role model, exemplifying the strength, dignity and perseverance necessary to face the daily challenges imposed by cancer and its treatment. Senator Specter fought hard over many years and is the embodiment of The Courage Award. He will be missed.

United States Senator Arlen Specter | February 12, 1930 – October 14, 2012

Art for Relaxation

In the world of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology the kids and their families have to spend a considerable amount of time in the hospital. Sometimes a visit entails a blood draw, an infusion, a scan and at times even surgery. Understandably, the hospital can become a place associated with fear and worry. Fortunately, art can provide a respite from this anxiety.  One very simple way to use art to relieve stress is to color a mandala.

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle and these ancient and lovely designs have been the foundation for prayer and meditation throughout Asia for centuries. Even in the West the mandala is found in the stain glass rose windows of churches. The power of the mandala lies with its circular shape, which is believed to be centering and able to produce a calming effect.

Recent studies conducted within the field of art therapy have supported these ancient notions- showing a link between coloring a mandala and the reduction of stress (Van der Vennet & Serice, 2012; Schrade, Tronsky & Kaiser, 2011; Henderson & Rosen, 2007; Curry & Kasser, 2005). In art therapy colors, lines and shapes drawn within the circle can be used to represent feelings. The circle can then, metaphorically, become a container into which these emotions can be safely placed.

As an art therapist, I often suggest coloring a mandala to patients and parents who appear to be struggling with the anticipation of a procedure or are feeling overwhelmed by the hospital experience. Mandalas are also a great way to engage teenage patients who might feel venerable or intimidated, but want to engage in the art making process.

You may want to give it a try! To get started you can draw a large circle on a paper (tracing the edge of a bowl is helpful) and create your own design. You can also find some free mandala coloring templates at: http://www.coloring-book.info/coloring/coloring_page.php?id=209

 

Footnotes

Curry, N. A., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 22(2), 81-85.

Henderson, P., & Rosen, D. (2007). Empirical study on the healing nature of mandalas. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(3), 148-154.

Schrade, C., Tronsky, L., & Kaiser, D. H. (2011). Physiological effects of mandala making in adults with intellectual disability. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 38(2), 109-113.

Van der Vennet, R. , & Serice, S. (2012). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? A replication study. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 29(2), 87-92.