Unique art project helps patients confront cancer cells

by Bill Ligas | May 11, 2016


Hanging edit

Every Thursday, the Swedish Covenant Hospital Integrated Cancer Care (ICC) program partners with the Artist in Residence program and invites cancer survivors to participate in free art activities to support the healing process. A recent theme was “Cancer Cosmographics.”  


Cosmographics are visual representations of individuals’ understanding of how the universe is structured.  For example, depictions historically portrayed the earth as the center of the universe. Current cosmographics portray the vastness and varying centering points depending on infinite planetary systems. 

Going through cancer changes how individuals view the world around them. When a person receives a cancer diagnosis, it may feel like their world is revolving around the diagnosis. Art can help them process their thoughts and emotions. Patients painted their own cosmic depictions. They also painted cells of their diagnosed cancer for this exhibit. Interestingly, cancer can grow and reproduce in spirals that can look extremely similar to galactic images. This art shows some of the progression patients felt processing things during their healing journey. For many, cancer no longer feels as though it is the center of their experienced universe.

“When I started coming to the art group and participating in other ICC programs, I found relief in being able to express my cancer journey,” said Erika, a patient who participated in the art program who also does meditation and fitness related activities at Galter LifeCenter. “Things that I had held inside were able to be expressed and I found comradery in others’ journeys. In addition to finding relief in expression, I recently found out that my heart function increased from a 25% capacity to a 30% capacity, which I believe is connected in some part to my participation in this program.”

Painting Collage


Those who work with patients on this program can also see the benefits of art in healing. The artistic expressions offered patients the opportunity to express a physical portrayal of a strong emotional reaction to a cancer diagnosis,” said Integrated Cancer Care Navigator Kayla Wilbur, LCSW. Kayla and Swedish Covenant Hospital Artist in Residence Kari Lindholm-Johnson both said: “Participants were able to free themselves from the power that their cancer diagnosis had over them through drawing and painting the cancer cells on canvas or paper and in their support for one another.”

There are many benefits to artwork, according to Wilbur and Lindholm-Johnson, who believe that the meditative movement of the brushstrokes and in artmaking offers a place to discuss metaphors of emotional processes. “This program is an example of the extra care our hospital puts toward treating the patient as a whole person, rather than only treating the illness,” they said.

Swedish Covenant Hospital supports the use of the arts in patient treatment. The hospital’s Artist-in-Residence program provides patients the opportunity to express themselves through the therapeutic power of the creative process, encouraging individuals to be active in their healing process by serving as a way to visualize emotions and experiences. 

“The Artist in Residence program offers patient-centered, collaborative art in an intentional hospitality method,” said Kari Lindholm-Johnson. “The art projects are developed in collaboration between patients and staff, with many different departments contributing which  leads to furthering the healing experience through expressive art."
The Center for Advanced Therapy leverages a collaborative approach to cancer care treatment and a unique affiliation with Rush University Medical Center to provide advanced cancer resources to cancer survivors in a local setting.

To find a Swedish Covenant Medical Group oncologist, visit our Find a Doctor page or call 773-989-3803.

If you are interested in learning more about the Artist in Residence program or would like to arrange patient sessions, please call 773-878-8200, ext. 4727 or email Kari Lindholm-Johnson at klindholm@SwedishCovenant.org



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