By Mr. Kevin Downey (IMCOM)March 14, 2008
TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii - Ricky Lumang's red tears are the pain of leukemia, the chemotherapy turning his smooth head a much darker shade against the choppy, crayon-colored blue sky.
Nine-year-old Rizelle's portrait of her father's struggle with bone-marrow cancer was part of an art exhibit here March 7-8 entitled "Oncology on Canvas," Tripler's version of an international exposition encouraging those touched by cancer to relate their emotions through art.
"It's amazing how my daughter expresses herself through painting, rather than telling me how she feels about my leukemia," said Lumang, a gas turbine technician chief petty officer at the Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard. "Coming here today to paint is a way of my family letting their emotions out that have been trapped inside."
Pat Nishimoto, adult oncology clinical nurse specialist at Tripler, is a member of the Oncology Nursing Society, which is supporting this event here and at five other Oahu-area hospitals this month. Nishimoto said she uses this event, in its second year at Tripler, as a step in her patients' therapy.
"This is a chance for people to use their artwork to express their feelings about their cancer journey," Nishimoto said, wearing a purple lei and standing beside an extra-large cancer mural of a serene Oahu coastline, painted by event participants. "It becomes a powerful healing experience because people can reflect on what it is like to go through this journey."
Nishimoto said she instructs participants to picture, with eyes closed, how they would describe their cancer experience without words.
"Then the magic happens," she said, eyes shimmering in a smile. "It's so powerful how deeply these patients and their family members can relate to each other simply by turning their emotions into art."
For Lt. Col. Brad Whitcomb, oncology doctor here, this event helped provide perspective to a painful journey in which his personal and professional lives converged close to three years ago, he said. His wife Mary had been diagnosed with an advanced form of breast cancer and passed away last August.
"Today is very important for me to bring my children here to celebrate my wife's life," Whitcomb said. "It also gives us a chance to express, good and bad, what cancer has brought to our lives.
With his art today, he said, he is focusing on how his life has moved forward.
"I'm painting something to express the positive in my life and how having wonderful people around me has helped, which is what my wife would have wanted," he said, before his daughter Alyse's sudden bear hug.
Voice quivering with emotion, 28-year Air Force veteran John Culkin said he first came to this event last year as a chance to reconnect with his daughter when diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer after a long period of separation.
"(This event) is about the sharing of our journey and the love we have for our family, which is sometimes hard to talk about," said the 75-year-old retired command chief master sergeant, standing side-by-side with his daughter.
"Sometimes we're not able to talk about what we're going through everyday," Theresa Culkin continued. "This program is a way to come together and put down on canvas how we feel with other patients going through similar circumstances."
"Oncology on Canvas" is an international art competition started 10 years ago by a commercial drug company for breast cancer survivors to express how they deal with their disease.
Nishimoto said she intends to make Tripler's "Oncology on Canvas" an annual event, and is scheduled to display the artwork from this year's exhibit in her clinic to inspire and support other cancer patients.
In July 2007, Tripler's oncology program received a commendation by the American College of Surgeons, ranking it among the best in the country.