Kids vs. Cancer

Last year, in collaboration with Linda Kim of the GUH Child Life Program and the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, I helped write and illustrated a comic book for kids with cancer. It was the first time I had illustrated a comic book. It was a big project and a lot of fun. Thanks to Bear Necessities, we are able to give the books away to all our newly-diagnosed cancer patients.

 It was not only a challenge to me as an artist, it was also a great opportunity to get into print some of the basic information I like to teach young patients and their families. The book describes a little girl’s journey from being a kid who likes bike riding and art through the process of diagnosis and treatment for cancer. She confronts questions like “What is cancer anyway?,” “Did I do something wrong?,” and “Will my friends still play with me?”

 Her doctors explain a lot about the illness and its treatment—most importantly that it is not her fault, it’s not contagious, and they have really good medicine to help her get well. She reflects on how her parents feel, and she gets lots of support from Doctors, Nurses, Child Life Specialists, Social Workers, and yes, Art Therapists! She endures hair loss, chemo, surgery and radiation and completes her treatment successfully.

 The cover illustration is in color, but the inside is black and white, so lots of kids use it as a coloring book, which I think is great.

 If you are interested in the book, contact me: tracy@tracyskids.org or Linda Kim at LMJ4@gunet.georgetown.edu.

Tools of the Trade

As Tracy’s Kids art therapists, we are lucky enough to be able to offer the kids a wide array of art supplies every day. In addition to these hand-selected fun and colorful tools, as medical professionals we also have access to a whole other world of resources – medical supplies! Kids love nothing more than to blow up latex gloves and make puppets, or throw rolls of exam table paper on the walls for a mural, or squirt paint onto paper with a new syringe. The novelty of using these supplies always gets the kids excited, but it also gives them the opportunity to interact with the medical environment in a positive way.

Six Days A Week

I joined Tracy’s Kids Art Therapy Program at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in May of 2008.  I worked Monday through Friday during traditional daytime 9-5 hours.  Then in January of this year I had a baby.  I transitioned into working part time after my return from maternity leave and requested that one of the days I work be Saturdays.  I knew that this would make it possible for a family member to watch my son, but what I didn’t know was how different, and wonderful, it would be to work at the hospital on a Saturday.

 During the weekdays at CNMC there is an incredible wealth of services and activities available to patients and their families.  When I came in to work on my first Saturday I was shocked at how incredibly quiet the unit was.  There were no activities for the kids to participate in and most of the children spent the weekends sitting bored in their rooms.  When I first started going into patients’ rooms on Saturdays they would become incredibly excited and almost always one of their first questions to me was, “is the art room open?!!”  Now the children are frequently waiting at the art room door for me when I arrive on Saturday morning.  I even had one child who, upon entering her room at 8:45 in the morning, greeted me by saying, “you’re here! Finally! I’ve been waiting.  These are the things I need for my project.” 

 Another especially rewarding aspect of having the art room open on Saturdays has been that it has enabled so many more families to be together in the art room.  Many children only get to see their siblings in the evenings and on weekends.  Being present on Saturdays has enabled the art therapy program to really reach more children who are in need of services.  And shockingly, Saturdays have actually become my favorite day to work.  I did not previously realize that there was such a void on the weekends, but I’m so happy to get to be able to bring a little more enjoyment to our patients outside of the usual weekday hours.