Art Brings Comfort to People with Cancer in Durham Region

Coming to a hospital for cancer treatment and care can be a stressful experience for people living with cancer.

Innovative partnerships between the ArtWorks for Cancer Foundation (AWFC), O’Neill Collegiate & Vocational Institute (O'Neill C.V.I.) and R.S. McLaughlin Durham Regional Cancer Centre (DRCC) at Lakeridge Health are using the power of visual art to bring comfort to cancer patients and their families.

According to AWFC, a non-profit group with a mission to bring works of art to cancer treatment centres across Ontario, studies have shown that, for many patients, exposure to visual arts not only bolsters spirits and calm anxieties, it can also improve health outcomes. 

“The art is adding a sense of warmth to the cancer centre,” explained Debbie Devitt, Patient Experience Lead in the DRCC. “It brings smiles to patients’ faces. And it’s uplifting for staff to see the art on display every day when they come to work.” 

Through the AWFC program, approximately 82 pieces of art now hang throughout the cancer centre. 

“Each member of the AWFC team has been touched by cancer and wanted to transform clinical oncology areas in Ontario hospitals into warm, hopeful, healing spaces for patients and their families,” said Sharon Suter, director at AWFC. 

In addition to this already-impressive art collection, over 60 more pieces of art created by O'Neill C.V.I. students are being displayed on three temporary safety walls installed during renovations at the DRCC. 

A special feature of these art exhibits is that these works have been curated by Advisors of the DRCC’s Patient and Family Experience (PFE) Advisory Group. In fact, the Advisory Group continues to add to the collection, with new pieces from O'Neill C.V.I. students soon to be on display at the gallery. 

“From a patient perspective, artwork is something to ease your mind or divert it while waiting for something you know you don’t want to go through (chemo/radiation) and gives you more a feeling of home rather than of a clinical setting,” said Connie Bell, PFE Advisor and Whitby resident. 

“Patients go through so much, not just physically, but also emotionally – having to endure endless waiting, working through their own treatments,” said Mary Jane Kolesar, PFE Advisor and Ajax resident. “Anything to alleviate their treatment is always welcome.” 

The DRCC’s PFE Advisory Group saw the opportunity to partner with O'Neill C.V.I. and approached art teacher, Jennifer Fabris, with the idea of showcasing student art work at the Cancer Centre. 

“When I spoke to the students about the possible collaboration, they saw the bigger picture and the opportunity to support their community,” said Jennifer. “Having their work displayed brings the students a sense of pride. Many have visited the hospital’s food court, but have never really been in the hospital or Cancer Centre.” 

“I do enjoy art and I like how it makes you feel when you find that piece of work you love,” said Connie. “Dressing the walls for conversation instead of focusing on why you’re at the Centre is a good thing.” 

The DRCC’s PFE Advisory Group welcomes current and former patients and their families as Advisors to collaborate and partner with the leadership and staff of the Cancer Centre. Regular engagement with Advisors helps to shape policies, programs and practices related to the quality of cancer care in Durham Region.