With art, finding healing for cancer patients and caregivers


A young cancer survivor drew this painting as part of an art therapy program at Kapiolani Center for Women & Children. The painting’s creator explained, “Sometimes I feel happy, and sometimes I feel sad. I am in the hospital just like the Little Mermaid.”

Being808 Staff Writer

Cancer. I hate that word. Especially when it comes to children.

You don’t have much control over cancer and the treatment that ensues, but cancer treatment doesn’t strip you of your creativity. That was very clear on a recent Saturday at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, where cancer patients, survivors and caregivers gathered to express themselves through art.

The event, called Lilly Oncology on Canvas, has been held every year for the past 10 years, and gives attendees a chance to create paintings and drawings to express what they’re facing.

The result is heartfelt and astonishing. While I was there, I marveled at how people quietly drew, painted and discussed life in general. Someone mentioned the latest episode in a zombie series and others chatted about how their families are doing.

It was relaxing. I can see how tapping into your creative side could especially be a great source of support for a cancer patient and their loved ones.

Joyce Wong, an Integrated Services coordinator at Kapiolani, told us how important it is for a patient to take care of all aspects of their well-being. She’s proud of how Kapiolani tries to take a whole-body approach.

Wong started her career in complementary therapy, performing Healing Touch and Reiki for cancer patients as part of their care.

“It’s important to be able to express from the heart. Through a medium like art, a patient can tap into unexpected feelings to express their journey of dealing with cancer,” Wong said. “I’m a cancer survivor myself and realized how great I felt with complementary therapy. Kapiolani’s Child Life program has Healing Touch, Reiki, art, music and pre-term infant massage. I’ve published a clinical study on how complementary therapy like Healing Touch can help with patient pain, fatigue, and anxiety. Surprisingly, parents felt better about a child’s treatment when these add-on therapies were added to their treatment.”

Wong points out that the patients, family members and volunteers at the event are using quality materials, including thick paper, professional paints, and brushes.


She tells me the Hawaii Oncology Nursing Society provides all the materials and then shows me a wonderful educational book of those that have won past Oncology on Canvas events that happen throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. I asked if any of the patients have formal training in art and I’m astonished that they haven’t. Their results are amazing.

Winners don’t receive any compensation and neither does Lilly. The artwork is put on display at hospitals around the country to be used in fund-raising efforts. Check out our slideshow of artwork from last year, which is on display next to the cafeteria on the second floor at Kapiolani.

If you’d like to volunteer or make a donation to Child Life services for the children at Kapiolani, see their Child Life Services page.

You can also view this year’s artwork on display at Honolulu Hale from May 4 to 22.

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denise bioDenise Lau is a content specialist at HMSA and blogs about mommyhood with her #808moms series. She has her hands full with a precocious, artistic daughter and active son. Her goal is to be healthy and fit while her kids become successful, well-rounded adults. Follow her on Twitter.

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