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Format: 04/19/2014
Format: 04/19/2014


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Deep feelings color art created by cancer patients

Friday, October 9th, 2009

By Pohla Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Four years went by no cancer.

This is great I will make it five years

Cancer free. But it did not happen I

Couldn't believe it when they told me

It came back why me what did I do wrong?..."

"The Cancer Returns," written by cancer patient Jodi Stebler, 43, of Troy Hill, is a free-form poem that describes one of her art works, a red and black collage depicting an abstract landscape. It will be displayed along with the work of other local cancer patients and relatives of cancer patients in a one-day show in the lobby of the Allegheny Cancer Center at Allegheny General Hospital, North Side, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

It is hard to decide which part of Ms. Stebler's poem is more moving: The angry red peaks and tiny sun of the collage or the prose about them.

"...The red is the rage I felt the black is the

overwhelming fear and sadness I felt.

The blue glitter is the millions of tears I shed.

The green is how sick I felt from chemo. ..."

Ms. Stebler, who just began painting in June in order to contribute something to the show, has come to love the art form, but she says both it and the writing have been cathartic.

"When you write stuff or paint, it helps to get it out," said Ms. Stebler. She was diagnosed in 2004 with neck cancer, which was found to have moved into her right hip last year.

When painting, she said, "I get a release. I put the anger and frustration on something else. ... I can get my feelings out and don't feel like I'm bothering my family and friends. I have a really good support system, but this helps a lot."

Doctors and cancer counselors encourage artistic expression for just that reason.

At the Bloomfield-based nonprofit Cancer Caring Center, personnel lead "socially interactive programs that have an art project as part of the process," said Bonnie Shields, director of support services.

"For example, our Live Well with Cancer series has Angel Silks, a three-part series where we gather people together to do silk screening. ...

"I think it's therapeutic in a sense, just like a support group would be -- people have the opportunity to express in a nonverbal way things that are bothering them. It's a coping mechanism, a means to reduce stress, a wonderful distraction," Ms. Shields added.

Dr. Betsy Blazek-O'Neill, director of the Integrated Medicine Program at Allegheny General Hospital, is a firm believer in the benefits of art for cancer patients. Her program combines conventional and complementary therapies like acupuncture, relaxation techniques, Reiki and even pet therapy for an integrated approach to healing the mind and spirit, as well as the body.

"Cancer is a very serious disease-- it requires strong medicine or serious surgery and procedures -- and that's the way it should be," Dr. Blazek-O'Neill said. "But somebody along the line needs to adjust the mind and the spirit.

"If they can express what they're going through in art, they can feel good about themselves," Dr. Blazek-O'Neill said.

"That's different than sitting in a support group or ... talking to family. It's a really great way for people to express what they're feeling and to feel good about themselves.


To read more, visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette web site.

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