Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer will tell you that it is a life-changing experience. For some people, like Heather Rodale, it was also an inspiration. What started as a sore on her nose that would not heal became a stage 3, level 4 white melanoma cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, after “catch & cut” surgery, a sentinel node biopsy and skin graft, no other treatment was necessary except for regular follow ups and testing. However, in some melanoma cases, the cancer can return years later, so Heather knew she could either let the debilitating fear of recurring cancer cripple her or she could strive to keep her immune system strong, stay out of the sun, and most importantly, live each day to the fullest. Part of her “living fully” was creating, Healing Through The Arts (HTTA.org). “The fear of my melanoma coming back scared me for a long time, but I ultimately chose not to let the fear of getting sick dictate my life,” says Heather. “I decided to go after my dreams and one of my dreams was establishing HTTA.”
Healing Through The Arts founder, Heather Rodale, holds a personal favorite: Spread Your Wings by artist Olivia Steward.
The website launched in 2008 and the Hope & Healing Juried Art Show began in 2011. The goals of HTTA are to raise awareness that art promotes healing and the art show provides artwork to various organizations throughout the region, including St. Luke’s Cancer Center – Anderson Campus. The artwork is created by talented young artists.
The idea for HTTA was inspired by Heather’s experience with melanoma treatment and surgery. During that time, she spent a lot of time in her hospital room, which overlooked a river. She gazed out her window, watching the sun and light change on the river. “I knew I was very lucky to have a view like that,” recalls Heather. “I thought about how boring and lonely it must be in the hospital for those who did not have a beautiful view, especially if you are far from home.” Providing a “window of hope” to other cancer patients became Heather’s mission and the inspiration for the Hope & Healing Juried Art Show.
The idea is partially based on the work of Dr. Roger Ulrich, a well known researcher who studied the wellness of hospital patients who viewed outdoor scenery, like a line of trees, compared to those who were not exposed to such scenery. He found that patients with a nature view were more optimistic, less stressed, needed fewer doses of pain medication and were released from the hospital, on average, one day earlier than their counterparts whose only view was a brick wall. So Heather believed that for patients who did not have a nature view, inspiring art might provide a “window of hope.” Healing benefits of nature and art – water imagery, green landscapes, friendly faces – provide a welcome distraction from pain, discomfort, a scary diagnosis or anxiety-provoking treatment options.
In order to curate a collection of healing artwork, HTTA hosts a regional competition in which students from local high schools and colleges create artwork (art, painting, photography or mixed media) that promotes hope and healing and a message of peace, calm, comfort and inspiration. Each artist’s work is judged on his or her ability to visually convey a message of hope and healing, as well as creativity and craftsmanship.
Two of the works of art this year were created by children of St. Luke’s Cancer Center employees. Meaghan Jones, daughter of medical dosimetrist Jen Jones who works in radiation oncology, created “Hope Blossoms From Within,” a watercolor and acrylic piece. A senior at Northampton Area High School, Meaghan sought to use the symbolic meanings of different flowers to portray hope, love, good fortune and strength.
Circle Circus by artist Ben Tallarico.
For Ben Tallarico, a student at Northampton Community College, inspiration came from looking at cells under a microscope. “I’ve always liked the repetition of one shape,” he states. “The meaning [of my piece] is up to the viewer. I want it to mean what they want or need it to mean.” Ben’s mom is St. Luke’s practice administrator, Deborah Tallarico, who works for Cancer Care Associates.
There are monetary prizes for the winners, but the real honor is that all the artwork is displayed in local health, healing and wellness centers to calm and inspire patients. One of the main installations resides in the Hope and Healing Room at St. Luke’s Cancer Center – Anderson Campus – where Meaghan and Ben’s works are featured. Following the yearlong tenure in the Hope and Healing Room, the pieces are distributed throughout the St. Luke’s Network and are displayed for patients to enjoy.
“Most facilities we work with are looking for nature images and landscapes since research shows that is the most healing,” says Heather Rodale. “Our art is never for sale, but donated by the students and free to healthcare facilities. The artwork not only helps the patients who admire it, but it gives students a way to use their creativity to help others.” After six years, HTTA artwork can be found in more than 20 hospitals and healing facilities in the Greater Lehigh Valley and beyond.
Hope Blossoms From Within by
artist Meaghan Jones.
Today, the healing art pieces are available to patients and facilities in three formats: original art, prints and Healing Art Meditations. The “Healing Art Meditations for Healthcare & Beyond” is a partnership with Jim Brickman, a Grammy nominated musician and songwriter. He believes in the power of healing through art and music and, as such, has given HTTA the rights to his music to create meditations that accompany slideshows of the HTTA artwork. The slideshows are played in doctors’ offices or patient hospital rooms and healing centers or can be downloaded for personal use. “As the HTTA network grows, others become partners in the mission and our work has grown in ways that I never imagined,” notes Heather.
The next Hope & Healing Juried Art Show, sponsored by St. Luke’s and benefitting the Healing Through The Arts program, is at the Banana Factory, March 11 – May 7, 2017. As with each annual show, healthcare professionals will attend the show and send their “wish list” of pieces they would like to receive; after the show, the art is distributed and enjoyed by patients throughout our region.
Feature Photo: Ben Tallarico and Meaghan Jones hold their works of art, standing next to their mothers, both of whom work at St. Luke’s. Left to right: Deborah Tallarico, Ben Tallarico, Meaghan Jones and Jennifer Jones.