Creating Hope with art

Photos by Tegan Johnston/The Herald
Linda Foisy, left, admired the watercolor work her daughter, Paula, both of Ireland, created while making bookmarks for new patient care packages during Tuesday’s Creating Hope art class at Memorial Hospital in Jasper. Linda and Paula learned about the program while caring for Linda’s husband, Tom, who passed away in 2015. The group meets every first and second Tuesday of the month to offer support to patients and caregivers while creating uplifting art.


JASPER — Five women gathered Tuesday evening around a table in a side room of the Lange-Fuhs Cancer Center at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center watercolor painting and chatting about Brew. The topic came up when Paula Foisy of Ireland brought up the photographs of natural stones on display in the downtown Jasper restaurant, but conversation quickly turned to Brew’s food. Their burgers, the ladies agreed, are a work of art themselves.

The women gathered for Creating Hope, a program that helps cancer patients and their caregivers cope with the disease through art. Sessions happen in the evenings of the first and second Tuesdays of the month, and participants come to decorate bookmarks that are included in new patient packets at the cancer center. Sometimes they talk about the cancers that brought them to the session, and sometimes the disease never comes up, and that’s OK. The sessions are about providing an artistic release, not about the cancer specifically.

Donna Renner of Ireland painted with watercolors while making bookmarks for new patient care packages during Tuesday's class.

“(Talking) is part of the therapy either way,” said Angela Hoagland, director of pharmacy and oncology services at Lange-Fuhs.

The Creating Hope program at Lange-Fuhs is part of a larger nonprofit organization by the same name out of Fishers. Jeanette Gianfagna Shamblen founded the organization in 2000 after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Although not an artist, Shamblen found that creative expression through painting helped her cope with her cancer journey, and she decided to share that with others. Each Creating Hope participant receives a Hope Kit that contains watercolor paints, brushes, colored pencils and books to get them started. Those supplies covered the table Tuesday night at Lange-Fuhs where Donna Renner of Ireland sat painting a butterfly onto a bookmark.

“It’s relaxing,” she said. “It takes your mind off it.”

Renner began attending Creating Hope last year while battling her own cancer. She’s finished with treatment now, but continues to attend the sessions.

Patients and former patients aren’t the only people welcome at Creating Hope. Several participants are caregivers or former caregivers, as well. Paula Foisy and her mother, Linda, both of Ireland, began attending Creating Hope while caring for Linda’s husband and Paula’s father, Tom. Tom passed away in October, but the two women still attend the sessions.

“It is beautiful, wonderful support,” Paula said. “These women were put here for a purpose.”

Renner talked with volunteers and other attendees while painting bookmarks for new patient care packages during Tuesday's class. Renner was a former patient who has been cleared of cancer.

Creating Hope began at the Lange-Fuhs Cancer Center in 2011 and is mostly run by three volunteers — Deb DePree of Jasper, Leah Hayworth of Huntingburg and Sabrina Verkamp of Ferdinand. DePree got involved as a volunteer a few years after the program started. Now, she can’t imagine not being part of it, although she did stop coming for a while when she became a caretaker for her father-in-law. After her father-in-law passed away, however, she returned to her role as volunteer with the program. Walking back into the cancer center for the first time after her experience as a caretaker was hard, DePree said, but it was something she wanted to do. She missed the support and care she found in the staff and other patients.

“Everyone is so loving at the cancer center,” she said. “It makes you want to be part of the groups.”

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