Cancer Survivors are Thriving in LaGrange with Art, Yoga and Nutrition Classes at the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center, WellStar West Georgia Medical Center

One Friday, Georgia CORE’s Vice President, Angie Patterson and I walked into the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center, WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, in LaGrange, Georgia, for a meeting.  As we journeyed to the conference room, we passed a small art room.  A vivacious, older woman inside greeted us and gave us our first look at Enoch Callaway Cancer Center’s Survivors’ Program.  In conjunction with the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition (WCGCC) in Columbus, Georgia, Enoch Callaway is pioneering a survivorship program to meet the needs of its local cancer survivors.  A Commission on Cancer Accredited Hospital, it helps those both undergoing and surviving cancer treatment.  Begun because an unmet need was recognized in the survivorship community, and funded by the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Control Program* through the WCGCC, it has blossomed into a thriving program that assists those going through cancer treatment, survivors, and their caregivers. 

Currently, the classes consist of Art Therapy, Curvy Yoga, and Nutrition and are free for those diagnosed with cancer or for caregivers caring for someone with cancer.  In addition, two annual gatherings are held each year on National Survivor’s Day and during the Winter Holidays.  However, they began with more humble beginnings.  During a treatment session, a patient in art school and his nurse practitioner began discussing the benefits of art therapy.  Several conversations later, a local artist eagerly accepted an invitation to establish an art therapy class.  Inspired, the local community donated art supplies to help the program get started.

Through word of mouth, flyers and announcements in the newspaper and at more traditional support groups, survivors, their caregivers and patients began attending this new art class.  No artistic talent was required, just a wish to be in a community with others going through similar circumstances.  Studies have found that art therapies are beneficial for the cognitive and emotional state, and can also help reduce pain, nausea and anxiety for cancer patients.  These Art classes became non-traditional support groups that helped patients, survivors, and their caregivers find a healthy way to express their emotions and begin to understand their journeys while simultaneously finding a supportive community creating their own paths.  Classes were initially designed to be held 2-3 times a month.  However, due to intense interest, they are now held twice a week.

The art classes were so successful that the Cancer Center wanted to show the local community the efforts of the survivors and get them involved.  Two exhibits were organized and displayed at the local art museum.  The first, entitled “Body Works: The Journey,” consisted of 50 paper mâché torsos.  Survivors each took home a cast and decorated it to tell the story of their own body throughout treatment.  The artists were then videotaped to explain how their artwork illustrated their physical journeys.  Quotes from their videos were painted on the walls of the museum next to their torsos capturing the journey they had been on with their bodies—creating a stunning and emotionally moving art display.

Next, “Connection:  The Journey” was created.  Each survivor was given a 12” x 12” piece of canvas and asked to describe what their support network meant to them throughout their treatment.  When the finished products were returned, they were sorted into themes, finding the common thread—such as religion, family and friends.  These groups were then placed in a much larger black border—creating a unique quilt that told the stories of the artistic survivors.  In addition, the local community continued to be highly supportive of these exhibitions through attendance and donations of goods, resources and services.  These group projects continue today with more recent campaigns including four corn-hole-toss board games for National Cancer Survivor’s Day and stakes for the on-site garden.

In addition to the art program, an unconventional yoga teacher appeared with a passion for teaching “Curvy Yoga.”  A course offering a gentle introduction of yoga techniques relating to relaxation, stretching and breathing began that allows participants to bring the body they have to the mat.  More challenging poses and strength moves are also offered to create an atmosphere of sharing that can be more effective at building a cohesive group than the traditional model of a support group.  According to the American Cancer Society, “yoga can be a useful method to help relieve some symptoms of chronic diseases such as cancer… and lead to increased relaxation and physical fitness.”  Offered once a week, the class caters to all abilities by also providing chairs and cots for those with less mobility. 

During this time, Mary Ann Hodnett, a cancer survivor and new Enoch Callaway Cancer Center employee, began helping coordinate all of these survivorship programs.  As a survivor, she wanted to discover the other needs of the survivors.  An evaluation was conducted among the participants of the art and yoga classes.  The results of this survey overwhelmingly found a need for nutrition classes.  “Live, Laugh, Learn – A Nutrition Experience” evolved. 

Nutrition and diet play an important role in maintaining health and fighting disease.  Cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, can affect your body’s ability to tolerate certain foods.  However, some survivors do not know how to change their eating habits or find recipes for healthier meals that they find appealing.  “Live, Laugh, Learn” provides a healthy, free lunch and is led by Registered Dietitians who educate cancer patients and survivors through instruction, such as cooking demonstrations (recipes provided); individual consultations that include assessing the nutritional needs of the survivors; and assistance and instruction on gardening (including building and caring for a raised garden bed).

Cheryl Johnson, the President and CEO of the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition, noted, “Many people believe you have to go to Atlanta or other, larger cities, to find worthwhile programs.  However, the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center has created a thriving survivorship community with limited resources in ‘rural’ Georgia.  We are so proud to be able to assist them in their endeavors through the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Control Program grant, and look forward to seeing how their program evolves.”

These complimentary therapy classes continue to grow. In fact, thoughts of a drumming class or of creating a “Best Practices” guide so that other locales can reproduce these support groups have been voiced.  Perhaps Mary Ann Hodnett says it best, “We would really like to encourage more Georgians to look to their own community and discover their own resources.  We also want survivors to know that there is life after cancer—and there are many diverse ways to find support along your journey.”

To learn more about the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, go to http://www.wghealth.org/our-services/cancer-clinic/complementary-care/.

 

[*Funding made available by: Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Control Program Chronic Disease Prevention Section Georgia Department of Public Health Contract #40500-032-16140940.]

 

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