Works of art by children fighting cancer from all around the globe were on display at Georgetown University Hospital earlier this summer. Sponsored in part by Tracy’s Kids, a pediatric art therapy program, this collection features more than 250 pieces of art by pediatric hematology-oncology patients from cancer centers in the U.S., Middle East, Ireland and South America—including former and current patients from Georgetown University Hospital.
Accompanying each piece of artwork is a description by the child who created it, expressing his or her feelings. One child from Turkey who battled Ewing’s sarcoma writes: “When I came back to my room from the operating room, my doctor told me that my leg was able to be preserved. I could not forget that day.”
A 13-year-old from Washington, D.C., describes the day she received her lymphoma diagnosis: “The circle means I felt empty. The dead end means that I felt my world was coming to an end. The water means that I felt my tears were making a puddle of water. Black sun because my day went to night…”
A boy from Tel Aviv writes: “In the beginning I thought there was no hope. But I found out that in everyone there is the power to fight back. So I did, and I won.”
“Our goal was to help young patients from cultures in conflict connect through the common ground of artistic expression and story,” says Tracy Councill, program director, Tracy’s Kids. “The young people in the show live in remote villages, major cities and everyplace in between. They come from diverse cultural, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, but each of them is coping within the confines of treatment for a serious illness.”
Some of the stories about illness and treatment are very honest and bold. Many times, when the stories are scary or sad, the children conclude with something they have learned or how they have grown from the experience. A few of them express how hard it is to make sense of their illnesses. Many offer imagery and ideas that help them cope with their diseases.
“These are normal kids, meeting a whole range of challenges and telling the stories that have meaning for them,” Councill says. “We present the young people’s art and stories in the hope that they will spark new questions and ideas about cross cultural understanding through art therapy.”
Organizers chose “The Day I Will Never Forget” as the theme for the exhibit after hearing of the work of Ohio art therapist Rebecca Chilcote, who used it with survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka.
“Remembering is an integral part of building one’s identity. Life experiences, individual characteristics and family stories all contribute to our sense of self,” Councill explains. “Young people with cancer and blood disorders must wrestle with how the illness and treatment fit with who they are. The pictures presented here depict memories that the children chose. Some of the stories give us glimpses into the details of life and culture very different from life in the U.S., but they also point to the universality of many feelings and experiences across cultures.”
The art exhibit continues to tour participating countries and collect new artwork by patients. The project is co-sponsored by the Middle East Cancer Consortium and the National Cancer Institute. The individual works of art may be viewed by visiting the Tracy’s Kids website at tracyskids.org.