Spotlight: Honoring a Life and a Love of Art

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Cancer patients are all too familiar with the numerous drugs and other supportive interventions that are used to treat their illness, but a growing body of evidence suggests that integrative treatments, including art making, can improve a patient's overall health during and after cancer therapy.


Now, thanks to a memorial donation in honor of Patty Klecker, the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center's and UW Health's Arts in Health Care program has been expanded to access more patients than ever.


"When cancer happens to your family, you are just shocked, and all you can think about is treatment, treatment, treatment, getting as much as possible," said Kathy Pazak, Patty's mother-in-law. "But there are other parts to healing."


Patty, who passed away in June 2014 from colon cancer at the age of 29, was never seen without an art project during her treatments at the Carbone Cancer Center.


"She always carried her chemo bag, with coloring books, crayons and jewelry-making supplies," Pazak said. "It was her mental therapy."


Natalie Callander, MD, associate professor of medicine with the Carbone Cancer Center, said that she is very supportive of the use of art for her patients. "I think this is a terrific way for patients to have an entirely different outlet to express their loss, their hopes and their concerns about their illness," she said. "It's another wonderful tool that I think people respond to quite well and is not usually something offered to them."


Patty's family participates yearly in the Cancer Center's Bowlin' for Colons fundraiser, where the proceeds go to colon cancer research. After Patty's passing, they wanted to do something more to honor her life, and agreed a perfect way to do so was to bring expressive art to more Carbone Cancer Center patients. They met with the UW Health arts team, including Arts in Health Care coordinator Sarah Petto, who worked with them to develop art kits that patients can pick up in the chemotherapy clinic waiting room and take with them to treatment or home. To date, they have provided 500 art kits, including pencil drawing, water color or Zentangle® with plans to stock new kits every year.


"We are very much about the quality of life for our patients," Petto said of the Arts in Health Care program. "Patients I have worked with here have said the use of art during treatment helps them to feel better, to feel more connected to their medical team or their families and to feel in control again."


Petto visits the chemotherapy clinic several times a week to stock the waiting room's "art cube" with seasonal projects and to bring supplies to patients and their families. Now, she can also offer one of the art kits.


"Art really does help, and that's what we wanted," Pazak said. "We wanted to do something that's not sharp and pointy or doesn't make your hair fall out, but something that helps with healing."


Patients interested in working on art projects during their time at University Hospital can contact Sarah Petto at (608) 890-9203.