Cancer patients find healing through art

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A study in still life by Monique

Pain is no stranger. We all have experienced it in some form or another, as it has varied expressions— physical, perhaps the most benign, because at some point there will be bodily healing; emotional, the most humbling, because there is always a lesson to be learned, followed by healing; and chronic, the most crippling, because it is persistent and searing, and usually, there is no healing.

Dr. Henry Lu has made pain his specialty. He heads the Pain Control Clinic at Makati Medical Center. Lu strives to alleviate this tyrant in whatever form it presents itself. His greatest challenge has been addressing the pain that cancer-afflicted patients have to endure. For them, there is chronic ache accompanied by an even greater suffering—fear. Fear brings with it the dread of the disease, plus many negative feelings, not to mention looming financial drain. All these make up the specter of what the cancer patient must endure.

LIEZL Laforteza, Lysa San Agustin, Ivan Orbigo and Charry Parpan

Medical journals have been noting how art therapy promotes healing and rehabilitation in patients with chronic pain. Interesting that a journal in German, by Muller-Busch HC and translated into English, clearly demonstrates how “art therapy greatly supports pain management by enhancing the activity level and creative capacity as a healing source. It stimulates positive emotional programs. It allows patients to experience social communication and interaction, as well as facilitates coping. Importantly it stimulates imaginative experience and awareness.”

One day while jogging with friends, Lu brought up the possibility of art classes for cancer patients. He explained how this would help them increase their ability to heal and that by tapping into their artistic inclination, you would give patients some relief from pain, which could translate into creative interpretations. Alden Meneses, whose mother had lost her battle against cancer only a few years back, quickly told him that he could find the instructor and set up the classes.

TAPPING into their creativity

Lysa Tiongson San Agustin is a fine arts graduate from the University of Sto. Tomas. She, too, had lost her mother to cancer. Alden Meneses asked her to join a group that is now a nongovernment organization called People Caring and Engaging Partners (PCEP). Its main objective is to offer alternative activities to cancer patients, particularly at Makati Medical Center. Together with Lu, Gerich San Agustin and Joshua Suarez, they are now busy sourcing painting paraphernalia, acrylic paints (as oil emits odors that can be toxic to the patients), canvases, brushes and easels and frames—whatever can be used to helping cancer patients in their pursuit of art. Monthly, they need to raise P20,000 at the very least. They hope some kind-hearted reader could help them.

I went to the art class of the recovering patients. They all seemed happy and positive. Lysa tells me that there is jovial banter among her students, even remarking in jest, “Stage 2! I am ahead, I am stage 4!” A young, professional dancer and mother of four, Liezl la Forteza strokes her head gently and tells me, “My bald head is a fashion statement!” These attitudes have therapeutic value, as does the ability to exchange notes with no judgment from the other—it is a gift to be among the people experiencing the same pain. Like a support group, they draw strength from one another; instead of sharing, they paint.

THE PAIN Control Clinic doctors finding joy in their work

Please see the photos on this page. I recall what Alden told me when the curator who is mounting the upcoming exhibit remarked: “I had expected to find dark and foreboding canvasses. Instead, I saw color, light and vibrant canvases. These all speak eloquently—and in unison—of hope!”

Those involved in PCEP have a mission and they pursue it. A biblical passage shared by Lysa says it all for them: “I am refreshed, I come to refresh, but coming out, I am refreshed!”

Dr. Henry Lu can be reached at Makati Medical Pain Center. You can reach Lysa for paint donations at lysa0105@yahoo.com.

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