John Blalock is a LIVESTRONG/The Creative Center Hospital Artist-in-Residence at Seattle Children's Hospital, former pediatric oncology nurse, and current photographer now working in arts and Health Care. His latest project with patients in The Creative Center's AIR replica program has gone viral with the help of none other than Kelly Clarkson! Check out the inspiring video below along with an article from Everyday Health. The article also highlights the incredible benefits of the arts for cancer patients in an interview with The Creative Center at University Settlement's director Robin Glazer.
Cancer Patients Get 'Stronger' through hospital art program
By: Allison Takeda, Senior Editor
FRIDAY, May 11, 2012 — As a hockey player for the North American Hockey League's Wenatchee Wild, 22-year-old Chris Rumble had faced some formidable opponents on the ice. He met his toughest foe, however, outside of the rink, in the form of leukemia, for which he is now being treated at Seattle Children's Hospital in Washington.
Rumble, who lives in nearby Kent, Wash., has been on the cancer ward for just a month or so, but he has already formed an unbreakable bond with his fellow patients.
"I'm everyone's big brother, and I have a lot of friends here at Seattle Children's," he said in a post on the hospital's blog . "I wanted to make a video to send back to my [hockey] team, and I thought, what better way to do it than with the kids on my floor?"
Inspired by a music video his teammates had made for him, Rumble recruited other patients, nurses, and hospital personnel to join him on camera for a rousing lip-synched rendition of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." In the video, he and his fellow cancer warriors dance and wave signs printed with words like "hope" and "fighter," as the anthemic chorus plays overhead: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller…"
Rumble's hockey buddies, not surprisingly, loved the clip — and they weren't the only ones. Since being posted to YouTube on Sunday morning, the song has gotten more than 640,000 views — including at least one from Kelly Clarkson herself, who tweeted the link to her followers and then recorded a response thanking the kids for their performance and promising to come visit them in Seattle.
'Art Heals the Spirit'
Rumble made the video as part of Seattle Children's Not Now creative arts program, which originated with a 2010/2011 grant from Livestrong's Community Impact Project to replicate the artist-in-residence (AIR) program started by the Creative Center's Hospital Artist-In-Residence Program in New York City.
The Creative Center was founded in 1994 as a way to give women going through cancer treatment an artistic outlet of sorts. It began with visual, performing, and literary arts workshops off-site — meaning, not in a hospital — but it quickly grew from there.
"We had this idea to give people the highest-quality instruction and charge them nothing — it was going to be a gift. And they would have that time to discover whatever it was they wanted to discover, whatever dream they had artistically," explains Robin Glazer, the director of the center and the program's first AIR. "Then participants started to come to me and say, 'Oh, I wish I had this in the hospital. I really need something to distract me, a window away.'"
Glazer, who is a cancer survivor herself, knew the feeling. So she and her co-founders came up with a plan to hire professional artists where they were needed most: in waiting rooms, in treatment areas, in hospice care — basically, wherever the anxiety levels were high and the rate of human connection was low. Artists would sit and work with patients on individual projects ranging from paintings to leatherwork to photography to music.
"What we're doing is different from art therapy, which is a licensable field with a medical model," Glazer notes, adding that the AIR participants are artists, not therapists, though they do undergo extensive training to prepare them for interactions with patients and staff. "Art doesn't always have to take a [formal] therapeutic approach. Our old motto used to be, 'Medicine cures the body, but art heals the spirit.'"
Seattle Children's AIR is John Blalock, a professional photographer and former pediatric oncology nurse. He, along with the hospital's video producer, Mike Attie, and three students from Seattle University, where Blalock is an MFA candidate and teaching assistant, helped Rumble bring his "Stronger" vision to life last weekend. He has also worked with kids on projects involving light photography, stop-motion animation, and pinhole cameras.
The Benefits of Art for Cancer Patients
"This type of work is happening all over the country," Glazer says. In fact, AIRs will soon be in more than 40 hospitals, thanks to both the Creative Center and Livestrong, which provides the grants needed to support each hospital program. It's an inexpensive venture — but the payoffs are huge.
At large urban public hospitals like Woodhull and Bellevue in NYC, for example, which serve hundreds of thousands of patients every year, staff members have reported that patients' anxiety level is reduced and compliance with treatment has improved because of the AIR.
"Benefits for the patient include reduced anxiety, reduced boredom — even reduced pain," Glazer says, citing a 2002 study in which patients needed less morphine while working with an AIR. "The other thing we see — and I can speak from a patient's perspective on this, too — is that, all of a sudden, the patient isn't invisible. There's a human connection between health care staff and the people they care for.
"We have an artist-in-residence who's been working for several months with a patient who's been in for weekly infusion," she explains. "And the other day, his doctor stopped me and said, 'I've been seeing this patient every week for six years, and your artist learned more about him in a few months than I've known ever. And it's all important in his treatment.'
"It's really about the human connection and getting people to understand that art is for everybody," Glazer says. "The idea is to expand your horizons at the most vulnerable time in your life. None of us knows how long we have — you hope you're going to have forever, but you don't know. So this is about seizing the moment and not putting off what you wanted to do your whole life — or, even better, may never have known about!"