Volunteer Offers 'Artful' Distraction to Chemo Patients
Elizabeth Anne Batchelor chooses her art students carefully.
Her process has nothing to do with artistic snobbery or even a careful talent search -- far from it.
She just doesn't want to intrude.
Batchelor's students are patients at the FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center or their friends or members of their families. They are people who are either having outpatient chemotherapy or who are waiting with loved ones who are.
Some welcome the distraction that Batchelor's unusual activity and cheerful banter provide while others would just as soon be left alone.
Batchelor understands both responses, because she knows about cancer. Her father died of cancer at age 40, and she herself was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease 30 years ago. She was only 26 and spent more than five months undergoing intensive chemotherapy.
"After those life-changing experiences and with some others to follow, I knew at some point in my life I wanted to work with cancer patients in some form," she says.
In addition to her work with patients at the Outpatient Cancer Center, Batchelor is also a CARE-Net volunteer, offering practical advice and emotional support to cancer patients. CARE-Net coordinator Laura Kuzma has seen her in both roles.
"Elizabeth Anne does a great job reaching out to patients in a positive manner, sharing her skills and experiences," says Kuzma. "The fact that she has been through treatment herself helps her to truly understand the anxiety that many patients and family members may feel."
Batchelor comes to the Outpatient Cancer Center about once a week and spends a couple of hours pushing a cart loaded with art supplies as she cases the area for potential students. She has learned to discern between those who might be interested and others who prefer to be left with their thoughts or to rest.
"Sometimes the nurses will give me a heads-up," she says.
On some days, no one feels like getting involved. On other days, Batchelor stays busy.
"Last week, I was trying to work with two at a time," she says.
An East Carolina University graduate with a bachelor's degree in art education, Batchelor employs some of the same techniques in her Cancer Center work that she did in the classroom. She retired from the Moore County Schools in 2006.
If someone is interested in watercolor, Batchelor is prepared. The same goes for pen, ink and pencil. Often, she will draw something herself and her patient/pupil will color it in. She arrives equipped with a "doodle pad of things I used in my classroom with my students to get past the fear of painting," she says.
Patients vary in their choice of subjects -- landscapes, flowers, once even racecars.
"Some like the mountains, and some like the beach," she says. "One lady loved apples. Every time I came, she wanted to do apples."
Batchelor borrowed her idea for the Cancer Center art lessons from major medical centers with established art programs for their cancer patients.
"I always thought that would be neat to do as a cancer survivor," she says.
She mentioned the idea to a friend as they discussed various volunteer opportunities, and the friend passed it along to Rebecca Ainslie, director of Hospitality Services for the Foundation of FirstHealth. Ainslie then spoke to Kuzma and to Lou Anne Griffin, director of Inpatient Oncology/Radiation Oncology nursing.
Griffin was assistant director of the Outpatient Cancer Center at the time and, according to Batchelor, very helpful in getting the program off the ground.
"It gives patients an avenue to express themselves while they get treatment," says Griffin. "It gives them something to think about other than what's going on with their health. That's the goal -- to give them a distraction while they are here."
Batchelor hopes that some of the artistic results of her Cancer Center experience will eventually find a home in a gallery in the new FirstVillage Hospitality House. More than half of the patients who come to Moore Regional Hospital for treatment come from outside Moore County, and many will seek respite in the Hospitality House.
"Art can give to patients creative expression they didn't know they had," Batchelor says. "Memories can be made and saved along with the patients who are recording their cancer journey and experiences for their loved ones."
Brenda Bouser works in the corporate communications office at FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
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