Alongside the latest treatment options and leadingedge research, the UK Markey Cancer Center also uses art as a powerful tool in the fight against cancer.
In 2014, Carla Repass, Markey’s former assistant director for administration, and Cindy Robinson, a former Markey nurse practitioner, had a goal to provide cancer patients with a place where they could relate to others and share positivity with others who need it. With that idea in mind, they launched the Expressions of Courage Survivor Art Celebration, giving former and current cancer patients an opportunity to share their experiences with the disease through art.
Inspired by the success of the celebration, Markey Community Outreach Director Melissa Hounshell started the Expressions of Courage Art Education Program in 2016. The program is a recognition of the enormous toll cancer takes not only on those who are diagnosed, but on their friends, family and community, as well.
When visiting a school, Hounshell presents a health and wellness program to students, and afterward, art teachers ask the students to create an art piece showing how their lives have been impacted by cancer. To date, the program has given students from seven Kentucky high schools the opportunity to share their experiences with cancer through art.
Accompanying each work of art is a narrative that describes the student’s piece. At the end of the program, an art showcase is held and awards are given to two students from each school.
Cancer incidence is especially high in Eastern Kentucky, meaning very few people remain unscathed by the disease. Unsurprisingly, the art education program has thrived in this area.
“Eastern Kentucky is rich with wonderful artists and a love of community,” Hounshell said. “This is a perfect opportunity to showcase some of these young artists and at the same time provide a healthy message.”
After the art show, prints are created of some of the winning pieces and are hung in community hospitals. Highlands Regional Medical Center in Prestonsburg, Ky., a Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network member, proudly displays pieces in its new oncology suite. In addition, student artwork is also displayed at the Expressions of Courage Survivor Art Celebration held each June on Markey’s campus.
The program also provides an opportunity to share information on cancer prevention. While students are considering cancer’s impact on their lives, Hounshell teaches them about ways to prevent the disease in the future. It’s a two-pronged approach that Hounshell hopes will help reduce the cancer burden in Kentucky moving forward.
In coming years, Hounshell said she plans to add more schools to the program, including elementary and middle schools.