Connecting patients with survivorship programs as soon as possible is an important role for patient navigators at St. Vincent Cancer Care Center in Indianapolis, IN.
“Survivorship starts the day you are diagnosed,” says Melissa Andres, RN, OCN, CBPN-C, and Manager of Patient Navigation at St. Vincent. “Getting patients into programs early on really helps improve their emotional state and provides psychosocial support,” she added.
Although there are formal and informal support programs offered at St. Vincent, it’s their art therapy program that truly shines.
“I think our art program is one of the things that sets us apart from a lot of the other programs out there,” said Ms. Andres. “It gives people an escape from the medical aspect of their care. It’s very informal and relaxing. Patients can just come and be themselves.”
The program was the vision of Dwayne Kniola, LCSW, OSW-C, Manager of Survivorship at St. Vincent. “I always had this dream for an art of survivorship program,” said Mr. Kniola, who received an artist-inresidence grant from the LIVESTRONG Foundation (www.livestrong.org) 3 years ago to get the program up and running.“We started by introducing art through mosaics,” noted Mr. Kniola. “Using broken pieces of tile to create something whole, new, and beautiful is very symbolic of the journey for many of our patients.”
Since the program began 3 years ago, patients and loved ones have created 10 largescale mosaics, which are displayed throughout the cancer center complex. In addition, hundreds of pieces of individual artwork have been created during open art studio sessions that are held 3 times weekly for 4 hours each session.
The open art studio provides informal sessions where staff art therapist and cancer survivor Joani Rothenberg guides patients and their loved ones in creating whatever type of art they want, from painting and drawing to mosaics and felting; the program offers something for everyone at every skill level.“The studio is such a special place,” remarked cancer survivor Rise Friedman. “Everyone is there because of cancer, but it’s evolved into something else. It’s transformational and empowering. It’s a community.”
Although Ms. Friedman completed treatment for breast cancer at St. Vincent in April 2011, it wasn’t until after she retired in July 2013 that she attended the art therapy program for the first time on the recommendation of a friend. “It was very unintimidating,” said Ms. Friedman. “I was there for nearly 3 hours, and I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t thinking of anything else, and the time just flew by. I was just so peaceful.” Today, she schedules her week around the open art studio times.
In addition to the open art studio sessions, the art therapy program has expanded to offer specific workshops using local outside artists to teach classes, such as jewelry making, drawing, and ceramics.
“People love our workshops,” acknowledged Mr. Kniola. “We recently partnered with the Indianapolis Art Center to offer more unique classes to our patients. We’re offering our first ceramics class there in a few weeks.”
The art therapy program at St. Vincent has had such an impact on so many patients that all patient navigators have attended at least 1 session to get a firsthand look at the program. New patient navigators joining the staff must attend a session as part of their orientation.
“Experiencing the program allows navigators to understand its role in patient care and to express the benefits of the program to our patients,” Ms. Andres said. “The program allows patients to be themselves in a safe environment, where they are supported by others going through similar experiences. They truly care for each other. They are a family.”