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Art Therapy Helps Cancer Patients Navigate Their Emotional Journey

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Barbara Dzurny of Mt. Arlington stood by her painting of one of her happy places, a beach. 'Art Therapy brings out different things at different times,' she said. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
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Evangeline Choi painted 'Garden of Healing,' filled with bright colors. Her painting was one of many made by cancer survivors and caregivers who took part in Art Therapy courses Credits: Barbara Rybolt
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Elizabeth McLain of Roxbury described her painting as a map of her cancer journey, from black after her diagnosis, to the blue of hope, green of growth, and some gray, for 'When doubt creeps in.' Credits: Barbara Rybolt
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Helena Alexrod of Chatham Borough between two of her paintings. At left, 'A Childhood Memory,' and on the right, 'My Cancer Journey,' which she said shows 'a lot of ups and downs,' Credits: Barbara Rybolt
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Shields Maier of Stirling, her late husband's caregiver, painted 'Outside the Window,' which depicts a sense of hope. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
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MORRISTOWN, NJ - What happens when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer? One thing is certain, your world will be turned upside down and, despite your best efforts to be calm and carry on, it's likely you will be pummeled by the full range of emotions - fear, anger, bitterness, hope, despair and more.

Art therapists help people find a way to express their emotions and, in the process, find hope, a new way to cope or even transform their life.

And, make no mistake about it, credentialed art therapists are just that, therapists. They work with their clients to help them find a way to identify, explore and express emotions they can't speak about or, sometimes don't even realize exist.

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On Monday, the latest exhibit at Morristown Medical Center’s Carol G. Simon Cancer Center, “Explorations through Art Therapy,” opened with an Artists Reception in the center’s lobby.

Art Therapist Cathy Meier Asher, MA, ATR-BC-LCAT, is the Cancer Center’s Art Therapist. She runs art therapy groups with clients at the center and infusion and inpatient individual sessions. Using gentle directives, she helps clients express themselves through art.

During the reception, several artists described their paintings and what they felt while making them.

Shelda Maier of Stirling, her late husband Chuck Drew's caregiver, talked about two of her paintings in the exhibit. Shortly after she signed palliative care papers, Asher handed her a mandala, a blank circle in a square. Maier said, “I painted a great big, black “WIDOW” inside the circle.” Around the word, she shaded in dark colors, but “I left the middle part (of the D and O) white … It represented hope,” and was like a window out of the darkness.

Her second piece in the show was done much later. Called 'Outside the Window,' it shows trees, clouds, grass and blue sky. “I just now am realizing both have to do with windows,” she said.

Meier said working in a circle “helps center the mind and body.”

Other guided paintings reflected the emotions felt by the artists on their cancer journey, others the healing process or a childhood memory. Even when the subject was the same, each painting was unique.

Members of Chatham Twig, the volunteer organization that provides volunteer and financial support to the Cancer Center, Goryeb Children's Hospital, and the Women's Association for Morristown Medical Center attended the opening and gave each artist a gift package of a candle, with a note, and a journal, said Samantha Ekert, the group’s president.

Representatives of Subaru, as part of their Subaru Loves to Care initiative, and their partners, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, donated a blanket and a note signed by a Subaru employee or customer to each of the artists, as well as art baskets that Meier will use with her new art therapy clients.

The Art Show is on the main floor of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center, 100 Madison Ave., Morristown. It is open to the public and continues through August 1. Art Therapy is one of many programs offered at the center through the Integrative Medicine program.

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