This summer marked CHAP's 10-year anniversary. It's a big milestone. When I stop to think about all the families we have worked with, it's staggering.
On a recent morning, I checked on my group of patients. I came to a certain room and as I explained what I was there for, the patient stopped me and said, "Remember me? It's Jennifer*." The minute she said it, it all came flashing back. She looked so different. Thinner. Older. Older beyond her years. Just a few years ago, CHAP worked with this young lady over at the children's hospital. Now, she's a young adult and it took me by surprise to see her again. It was her voice that triggered my memory the most.
Jennifer did come & join me in the Family Room. She was so sweet and eager to do art. Instantly, her gaze was drawn to a familiar sight - a small Spirit House. It was perched on top of the refrigerator, right across the room from her. I gathered colorful tissue paper and our special blend of water and Elmer's glue If you get the ratios just right, it should resemble the consistency of milk. Jennifer got right to business, applying colors she liked + cutting little hearts out of the tissue paper. While she is hard at work, another patient enters the room. I have met this patient several times over the past few months. I am quite taken with her. She's so upbeat, fun and creative. Her name is Yvette*.
The two women start talking. I find this to be an incredible pairing. Yvette is crafting another stunning necklace and Jennifer is slowly covering the plain cheesecloth surface with more pleasurable bursts of color. Yvette has this great style where she very thoughtfully selects her beads from one color palette and she she'll sneak in one random bead of a fully different color. This has become her signature move. The two artists could not be more different.
Jennifer asks what kind of cancer Yvette is being treated for and how she found out she had cancer. It's such an unraveling. I will never forget a mom saying that when her young son was diagnosed it was "such an assault." I recall this phrase time & time again when I hear people speak of this moment. An assault. Yvette shares her story, freely. Jennifer tells her long and ongoing battle with cancer. There's no fairness to any of it.
The women are with me for an hour, perhaps more. When Yvette goes to leave, Jennifer says, "You are amazing and strong woman." Yvette receives this compliment with grace as she turns around and smiles., "I don't know it any other way."
Jennifer says to me, "CHAP is great. You're like family!" While on FaceTime with her mom, she spins her camera around so that her mom can see me. A familiar face indeed. She thanks me for being there to make art with her daughter.
Jennifer takes acrylic paint, a small canvas and some beads back to her room. We ran out of time, so she wants to be stocked up. Our art program returns in 1 week and those days are long for patients like Jennifer who are thirsty to do art, get out of their rooms and meet some of their amazing peers.
As I get ready to go, I pass Jennifer's nurse in the hallway. She remarks on Jennifer's energy before and after CHAP. She said at the beginning of the morning, Jennifer was sullen and hard to communicate with. After being in the Family Room, the nurse could see such an improvement in Jennifer's energy. CHAP really enlivened her and improved her mood. What a pleasure to get that kind of support from the nursing staff. People are noticing the difference art can make. I was sure to give Yvette some credit, too, for helping make the experience so positive.
* Names have been changed to protect patient privacy