An empowering living legacy: Creating Hope
"To help people cope with cancer through self-expression and creativity ... inspiring them to find their way through each day - toward survival." That was Jeanette Shamblen's vision when she founded Creating Hope in 2000 after surviving her own diagnosis of breast cancer and undergoing one year of intensive therapy.
When first diagnosed, Jeanette's prognosis was not good and the many months of treatment that followed were difficult. A gift of paints, paper, and brushes given to her during her first phase of treatments sparked her creative expression that became part of her inspiration to cope with cancer and motivation to live each moment of each day.
Once in remission, Jeanette realized that watercolors were such a gift for her, and she wanted to bring that gift to others through Creating Hope.
How one patient benefited
For Jeanette, the opportunity to express herself creatively, particularly through watercolor painting, became a daily ritual.
Painting was essential in coping with treatment and separation from her family while in the hospital. It could help get her through sleepless nights. Painting flowers and nature scenes that symbolized beauty made Jeanette feel better and helped compensate for the side effects that did not make her feel pretty - primarily the weight gain and loss of her hair and breast. Even when Jeanette suffered two recurrences, she continued to paint, fight her cancer, and reap the benefits of expressing her creativity in watercolors. She truly felt creative expression had a role in her 4-1/2 years of survival despite the aggressiveness of the cancer she battled and grim prognosis.
Jeanette's mother, Tina Gianfagna, was amazed at how she took something so terrible as cancer and made something so wonderful out of it.
Tina said, "Creating Hope and watercolors really limited the time that Jeanette felt sorry for herself. She would say 'Enough of this!', get herself out of bed and come to the IU Simon Cancer Center." Creating Hope became an outlet to meet new people, share stories, and help each other find the "silver linings" in the cancer experience.
Jeanette's experience was personal, but research has documented the association between creativity, healing, and quality of life.
The magic extends beyond watercolors
Jeanette felt that there was a certain magic in watercolors - the way the blue merged with the yellow and emerged a shade of green and the red merged with blue to turn a shade of purple. The unpredictable nature of the paints would help her get lost in the colors. To Jeanette, this art form was especially soothing and inspirational.
However, there are other art forms besides painting which have a similar therapeutic effect. Jeanette also created sculpture with clay. Drawing, collage-making, journaling, writing, and music all allow people to express themselves and capture either a memory or feeling.
Helping all touched by cancer
Creating Hope is for everyone touched by cancer - patients, family members, partners and friends - regardless of their artistic ability or age.
Jeanette felt strongly that prior art training or education was not necessary, recognizing that the cancer experience caused her own creativity to blossom. Jeanette once said, "I thought I had to have talent to be creative ... getting cancer helped me to find out that I already was creative."
"Jeanette was adamant that creative expression was for all cancer patients and did not want to exclude anyone," her mother recalled. "The common pain, life struggles, physical and emotional changes, and friendships are binding and can turn into a positive experience for all touched by cancer."
Continuing the legacy
Unfortunately, Jeanette lost her battle to cancer after another recurrence in 2003. However, Jeanette's mother and father, Tina and John Gianfagna, have vowed to continue their daughter's legacy.
Tina and John spend their time giving talks about the organization, fundraising, and of course, helping others fight their disease through Creating Hope. The organization has a strong volunteer base, composed of other survivors and friends of the family that believe in Jeanette's vision.
You can find Tina, John, and other Creating Hope volunteers at the cancer center most Thursdays, demonstrating the art of watercolor and distributing "Hope Kits" to bring Creating Hope's message to as many patients as possible. Above all, they want to let people know that their watercolor and clay kits are available free to cancer patients, that they are a source of hope, and that they help in day-to-day survival.
And the beautiful silk watercolor banners lining the Cancer Pavilion are the product of Creating Hope's years of volunteer service. They bring color and vibrancy to the pavilion, and inspiration, strength, and motivation to those undergoing treatment at the IU Simon Cancer Center. Since December 2002, at least 60 volunteer artists have helped with this project.
For more information about Creating Hope, visit www.creatinghope.us. For more information about creative expression, the following books are also helpful resources:
- Creative Healing, by Michael Samuels, M.D., and Mary Rockwood Lane, R.N., M.S.N.
- Secrets of Color Healing, by Stephanie Norris (out of print, but check your local library for a copy)
- Color for Healing and Harmony, by Lilian Verner-Bonds.
Creating Hope is affiliated with and supported, in part, by the CompleteLife Program at the IU Simon Cancer Center. The program provides care that is complementary to conventional cancer therapy. CompleteLife programs recognize it is not enough to heal the body physically, tending as well to the emotional, social and spiritual needs of patients. Psychological, nutritional and spiritual counseling, as well as music therapy and creative expression are offered.