THRF’s Under Our Roof project patient story

Under Our Roof will offer purpose-built accommodation to cancer patients and their families who have to travel from regional SA to treatment in Adelaide. The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) has allocated Dry July funds to this project for the past few years and anticipates the units near The Queen Elizabeth Hospital will open in 2015. Here, Amanda Morris has kindly offered her story to tell how Under Our Roof will make a difference to people like her.

Leaving Her Children to Treat Cancer – Amanda’s Story

image

For a mother of two young children living in country South Australia and being treated for stage 2 breast cancer, Amanda Morris believes that The Hospital Research Foundation’s Under Our Roof project would mean the world to people like her.

Diagnosed towards the end of 2014, Amanda, who lives in Kadina with a five-year old and a one-year old, had surgery in February this year and is currently undergoing radiotherapy treatment for her fortunately curable breast cancer.

“You just don’t think it will happen to you and I’m very lucky that I noticed the lump when I did,” she said.

“There were actually two lumps and one was a reasonable size that had tentacles going through the breast and into the lymph nodes. It was quite shocking.

“As soon as they confirmed it was cancer they did tests for two weeks and I was back and forth to Adelaide sometimes nearly three times a week – it was exhausting.”

To Amanda, finding out if her breast cancer was treatable or not was what made all the difference.

“While the diagnosis was a huge shock, all I could think of was that I couldn’t die…I have two kids,” she said.

“Once I had my peace that I was going to live, I just got on with it.”

Amanda had chemotherapy treatment in Adelaide before her surgery and her mum would drive her while her husband would stay at home and look after the kids.

“While the treatment itself was two-three hours, when you include the travel it really is a whole day – we would leave early but arrive home after dark.

“Chemo was awful and I experienced pretty much all of the possible side effects, but fortunately it worked because when they did the surgery the cancer had shrunk so much they couldn’t even find it,” she said.

During all of this, Amanda made sure that her five-year-old son Ethan would cope with the changes she was going through.

“I have a really lovely relationship with Ethan and explained to him that I would lose my hair but we made it light and funny and agreed that he could draw Captain America on my head,” Amanda said.

“We talked about the cancer being the baddies in my body and the treatment I was receiving was the goodies fighting off the baddies.

“When I would leave to Adelaide he would always say ‘Mum, don’t forget to tell the doctor to give the goodies lots of guns, swords, bullets and shields to keep the baddies away.’”

For Amanda, having an Under Our Roof home to stay in during her treatment with her family would change the experience for her completely.

“Being away from my kids is heartbreaking. Thank you to each person who supports Under Our Roof – I can’t wait to see these two homes open up to provide a sanctuary for people like me.”

You can support the vital Under Our Roof project by choosing The Hospital Research Foundation as your Dry July Beneficiary.

https://au.dryjuly.com/our-community/beneficiaries/who-we-help/south-australia/the-hospital-research-foundation/

Gentle Yoga and Gym programs at the Sydney Survivorship Centre

The Sydney Survivorship Centre is part of Concord Cancer Centre at Concord Hospital. Both the Gentle Yoga and Gym programs have received funding from Dry July.

Gentle Yoga

Thursday morning is the busiest day at the Sydney Survivorship Centre. A cross section of people gathers every week, united in their love of yoga but more, the bond they share as cancer survivors.

Almost no one leaves the same way they came in. Most are chatty and more relaxed than when they arrived. Many in Zhang’s class will attest to how it has helped improve their mood and energy levels and reduced stress and anxiety.

One attendee said ‘having yoga at least once a week provides a break away from our day-to-day activities and rush. It helps with muscle and core strength as well as providing relief and relaxation. I enjoy this class very much’.

Gym

“Until one year ago I’d never set foot inside a gym. It’s now become part of my weekly routine and I miss it if I don’t go. I’ve been motivated to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.  I feel so much fitter and healthier.”

                                            – Judith

The gym at the Sydney Survivorship Centre (SSC) is an integral part of the multi-disciplinary service that assists with lifestyle changes including improved exercise, exercise nutrition and behavioural support.

Programs held at the gym include, cancer and exercise research trials, weight management program and the Mesothelioma Exercise Program

Exercise physiologist Jane Turner who has been with the SSC since its inception in 2009, said exercise is a positive and beneficial therapy for people who have experienced cancer. “It is associated with improvements in fitness, strength, and functional ability, improved quality of life, management of cancer related fatigue and other treatment-related side effects, reducing psychological distress-and most importantly forming new support networks and friendships with other exercisers,” she said.

Arts for Health at Calvary Mater Newcastle

Calvary Mater Newcastle’s Mercy Hospice, part of the hospital’s Department of Palliative Care, is a place of care and compassion for patients facing serious illness.

The Fig Tree Program is run in the Hospice and provides an opportunity for palliative care patients to participate in a range of creative activities in a supportive group setting. It has been running for over 18 years and the positive impact it has on both patients and their families and carers, cannot be over stated.

Thanks to recent Dry July funding, the program has been able to enhance its creative offering with the skills and fresh ideas of two Novocastrian artists, Dr Annemarie Murland and Marika Osmotherly, to engage in an ‘Arts for Health’ project.

It has long been recognised that art enriches peoples’ lives in many ways, be it in the form of music, visual arts, or performance. Art in the hospital environment fosters the exploration and expression of thoughts and feelings in relation to a person’s illness.

The artists conduct a session each month facilitating new ideas around the theme, memory and leaving your mark in time and place. The art projects have been designed to allow for personal narratives to capture the essence of the art they are creating.

Additionally, once a month, Annemarie and Marika are artists in residence in the Fig Tree Room. The artists are perfectly situated within the Hospice to interact with families and friends of visiting patients, as well as staff. A place where memories and experiences are willingly shared, the artists’ practice and direction is informed by their environment - a cathartic experience for all involved!

Both Annemarie and Marika are no strangers to arts in the health setting with both artists placing a heavy importance on the need for a felt experience to inform the visual.

“When people engage in creativity there is a shift in the person’s presence and a sense of empowerment is created. It allows a sense of contextualising for the participants which is important in a hospital environment,” says Annemarie.

Jo Davis, an Occupational Therapist at Calvary Mater Newcastle and one of the Program Coordinators, says, “Patients attend the program for a variety of reasons. Some have complex care needs but by maintaining this link to the Hospice it means that these patients can carry on living at home. Others attend to give their carers a couple of hours respite per week, while many come for the social interaction and enjoy taking part in new creative experiences.” Whatever the reasons, there is a common thread, the wish to live an everyday meaningful life despite health circumstances.

“The Fig Tree Program, unlike a hospital clinic, is structured to simply bring together people to enjoy every day social connection and creative activity despite serious illness. The program is very much guided by the needs and interests of those who attend. The great thing about art is its non-confrontational; it is accessible to everyone. I think this is what makes the program work so well,” says Jo.

People from all walks of life have participated. “Every person involved in the project has got something out of it. The beautiful thing about art is that it can constantly surprise – artists, facilitators, friends and families of the participants – it just has that potential,” says Annemarie.

Since the Dry July funded ‘Arts for Health’ project has been running, a number of pieces of art have been created that combine the participants’ individual work to create a visually stunning piece. Individual colourful drawings pieced together to create a patchwork rug effect, plaster casts of participants hands individualised and then created into a hanging art installation of bird like sculptures, portraiture, to name but a few.  

All pieces created both in the Fig Tree Program and by the artists in residence sessions will cumulate in an exhibition later in the year for participants, staff, friends and families to enjoy.

Patients talk about art therapy at Mater Cancer Care Centre

On Wednesday mornings, a group of women gather in a room at Mater Cancer Care Centre. A trolley is wheeled in, filled with supplies. The woman behind the trolley is not a nurse but an art therapist. Instead of bandages, swabs and rubber gloves, the trolley contains tubes of paint, brushes and pastels. The other women in the room are cancer patients. A Mater Cancer Care Nurse comes in and gives each patient a hug to say hello. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed. Everyone takes a seat and the Art Therapy session begins.

image

Most of the women in the room are waiting for chemotherapy treatment. The drips cannot be made up ahead of time because the recipient needs to have a blood test first. Sometimes a treatment session can be delayed because the number of white cells in the patient’s blood is too low. So you get there and then you wait. Which is where the Art Therapy sessions come in.

More than just a pleasant way to pass the time, creative expression is a proven complementary therapy for cancer patients. Relief from stress and anxiety is among the reported benefits, as is bonding with other women in the same situation. 83% of patients reported that the art therapy process allowed them to concentrate on something positive*.

Participant Patricia, who sometimes attends sessions with her 15-year-old daughter, tells us:

“I was first introduced to Art Therapy in 2011—back when I couldn’t even draw a stick figure! Now I actually look forward to coming to treatment. It takes my mind off what I’m really here for.”

“Sandra [the art therapist] brings out talents you never knew you had. The time goes really quickly and before you know it, the session is over and it’s time for chemo.”

“Being creative makes you relax and zone out. At times, I’ve been so lost in the moment I’ve dipped the paintbrush in my cup of coffee!”

“Without meaning to, our sessions become counselling sessions. Once the art starts, we open up and have a chat. We feel like we can tell each other anything.”

image

Then we hear from Lynne, who’s seated at the head of the table.

“I’m fairly artistic by nature—I used to be a primary school teacher. Our art therapy sessions are my way of coping. When you’re worried about results, it’s nice to have a pleasant distraction.”

“The sessions make coming here better. You can chat with other people and find out about different treatments.”

“It’s a lot of light-hearted fun and so rewarding. There are paintings all over my house.”

Art Therapist Sandra says:

“There can are up to six people in open studio session. I offer advice on processes, but the main thing is for everyone to express their thoughts and feelings. There’s a lot of laughter as well as tears.”

image

In another part of Mater Cancer Care Centre, Cheryl is working on her art project in a chemotherapy chair.

“I found out about Art Therapy when I was doing a Mindfulness course, which is another form of complementary therapy offered by Mater Cancer Care Centre.”

“It was something new for me. We started with a simple finger ‘labyrinth’ and went from there. My first attempt was a sunflower. Such a lovely, happy, hopeful image! I still have it hanging up on the wall at home.”

“Our art therapist, Sandra, is just amazing. She’s so supportive. We make collages with great meaning behind them.”  

“One of my favourites is a tribute to mindfulness. It has a healing image of a tropical island with a woman’s silhouette superimposed on it, leading into a calming deep sea picture, which in turn leads into a cool green rainforest.”

“My wonderful art therapy participants and I are so grateful to everyone who takes part in Dry July this year. Your support helps keep Mater Cancer Care Centre’s Art Therapy program afloat. As you can see, cancer patients find these creative complementary therapies hugely soothing and beneficial. Your support makes a great difference to their stress levels and the healing process in general. Without you, sessions like art, music and mindfulness therapy wouldn’t exist—instead, patients waiting for chemo might be sitting in a waiting room worrying about their treatment. On behalf of the Art Therapy Program participants and myself, thank you so much for your continued support.” - Sandra  

 

*Report on Integrative Oncology Services Art Therapy Program as a part of the treatment for cancer patients offerings at Mater Cancer Care Centre (MCCC)