“Art Angels”
Add A Bright Spot in the Lives of Cancer Patients at Children’s Hospital-OC
By Suzanne Collier, Secretary, Board of Directors - Art & Creativity for Healing, Inc.



The definition of the word “angel” can mean a variety of things depending on faith, religion or ethnicity. But for the cancer patients at Children’s Hospital Orange County (CHOC), angels are the men and women who arrive once a week with a cart full of crayons, clay, paint and paper, bringing art “workshops” to their bedsides.

The program, called “Visiting Art Angels,” teaches children with cancer how to express their feelings through art. It is funded by Art & Creativity for Healing, Inc., a Laguna Niguel, CA.-based non-profit organization that facilitates art classes and workshops for children, teens and adults suffering from abuse, illness, grief and stress.

The “Visiting Art Angels” program serves CHOC’s Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) patients. Art & Creativity for Healing art facilitators conduct one-on-one bedside workshops with five to 10 patients each week, assisting them in various art projects including drawing, painting and sculpture.

Because patients must remain in isolation for a minimum of one month following a BMT procedure, facilitators provide an enthusiastic resource for these children, helping them to create individual artwork that helps them express their feelings about their life experiences, and rediscover creativity through art.

David*, a young teenage boy who recently had his foot amputated, was unable to talk with family and friends about what he was experiencing. One afternoon, Nancy Torbitt-Stewart, who is also known by the children as the “Art Lady,” came to conduct a one-on-one workshop with David. She noticed that he had his guitar with him and it sported a sticker from his favorite band — “blink-182”. Nancy tried to engage him in an art exercise, but he was unresponsive.

She decided to leave a sketch-pad and colored pencils, saying to David that if he continued with his guitar lessons, he would one day have his own band and should start thinking about designing a logo. Nancy continued her visit with the other children, but on her way out, stopped in and found David sketching rapidly on a sketch pad, designing a logo for his band.

“Cancer is a complex disease, and the constant medication, treatment programs and hospitalization can leave children feeling as if they have no control over their lives,” said Torbitt-Stewart. “By giving them a problem to solve, like I did with David and his band logo, we are engaging them in the creative process and empowering them to take control and learn to solve at least one problem they are facing. Whether it is a desire to learn how to paint, sculpt or draw, we are giving them the opportunity to discover how art can help them heal emotionally.”

Another young patient, Maria*, has leukemia. Maria loves to go to school and has a constant desire to learn more about the world in which she lives. After a period of experiencing unusual symptoms, and not feeling like herself, Maria decided to go to the library to research what was going on inside her body. She was surprised to learn that many of the symptoms of leukemia were identical to those she was experiencing. Maria asked her parents to take her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with the disease.

When Nancy Torbitt-Stewart started visiting Maria, she was excited to learn about art and painting methods, and caught on very quickly. The next time Nancy visited, Maria had started losing her hair, and was crying as she picked out a wig. She told Nancy that she thought she was prepared for the disease, but hadn’t realized how traumatic it would be to lose her hair. She was afraid that her younger brother and his friends would make fun of her.

Nancy knew she needed a distraction, and because Maria had expressed an interest in learning about how to make pop-up cards, Nancy engaged her in this activity. Within a few minutes, Maria was captivated by the process and was laughing and having a wonderful time, momentarily forgetting about her disease.

“Art is an invaluable tool that can enhance the lives of our patients, and there are few people who are gifted in not only creating art, but sharing that gift and inspiring others to create,” said Erin Isaacs, child life specialist at CHOC. “We are extremely grateful for the talented art facilitators that Art & Creativity for Healing has so generously donated to our Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant patients. Their visits provide a bright spot for these children.”

“Visiting Art Angels” is one of 22 art programs facilitated by Art & Creativity for Healing, including Girls Inc., a national non-profit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold; Phoenix House, the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted to the treatment and prevention of substance abuse; Irvine-based Human Options which provides alternatives to battered women and their children; and Laguna Hills-based Kids Konnected, which supports kids who have a parent suffering from cancer.

Art & Creativity for Healing Inc. was founded in 2000 as a non-profit public corporation committed to helping children, teens and adults process their feelings of grief, illness or stress using the venue of painting on canvas. They provide free classes taught by Founder/Director Laurie Zagon and her team of highly-qualified facilitators on-site at hospitals and non-profit community organizations.

Laurie has facilitated “Art for Healing” workshops for thousands of children and adults in the Southern California region since 1991. The Zagon Method of Art & Creativity for Healing was originally developed in New York in 1987 as a workshop designed to help busy Wall Street executives deal with stress.

In 2002, Art & Creativity for Healing served more than 2,000 individuals in 154 workshops, and partnered with 18 Orange County non-profit agencies including Boys and Girls Clubs, Human Options, City of Hope Cancer Center, Mission Hospital, the Orange County Department of Education, St. Joseph Health Systems, and the Wellness Center, among others. Additionally, 80 artists, counselors, teachers, therapists, and medical professionals were trained and certified as facilitators in the organization’s training program during the year.

Art & Creativity for Healing Inc. is located at 26079 Getty Drive in Laguna Niguel, CA. For more information, please call (949) 367-1902 or visit our website at www.art4healing.org.

*The names of the children have been changed to protect their privacy.  

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