Alberta Cancer Foundation
  • Heath’s Story: How art is helping his family heal after their painful loss (Full video)

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    We have the opportunity to support families across Alberta through their cancer journey. By giving them access to expressive art therapy, children and adults are better able to cope with their diagnoses, heal from treatment, and build resilience for the future.

    We have committed $300,000 to a Healing Arts program and need your support. This program within CancerControl Alberta relies solely on Alberta Cancer Foundation donor support to help as many patients and families as possible. Art therapists can be there throughout the journey—from diagnosis to end of life and after. Give today:

    Heath McCoy strongly believes in the healing power of art. In 2015, he had to do the unthinkable: tell his seven-year-old-daughter, Bronwyn, and four-year-old son, Finn, their mother had died. Tamara Gignac had been diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer a year earlier and the family made one last trip to Mexico so she could fulfill her wish of feeling the sand under her feet and watch her children play in the waves. She deteriorated quickly on that trip and ended up being flown back to Calgary via air ambulance.

    Heath and his children were at Tamara’s bedside in her final moments to say goodbye, which he describes as the most traumatic part of their cancer experience.

    “I remember telling my daughter that this is the time we have to say goodbye to mommy and I remember she screamed and she kicked,” says Heath. “She had a physical reaction and I held her as tightly as I could and tried to take away her pain. I could feel her agony, I could feel her writhing in my arms. And I remember my son, he couldn’t grasp it as well, but he was crying and crying because he felt like he had done something wrong, to hurt his mom. It was really traumatic.”

    Thankfully, there are ways to help children and families through this physically and mentally traumatic time. Krista Marsden, provincial co-ordinator of Healing Arts says art therapists often hear from children who think they are to blame for a parent “going away.”

    “A cancer diagnosis and even more, the loss of a parent, can impact someone’s lifelong trajectory,” says Marsden. “The love story the dying parent and child share can be beautiful—art therapy can help children see everything that parent is doing or has done to live those extra days to hold them and to have those extra moments together. “It helps them not to see the blame but to see the love in that and set them up in their life to be resilient and healthy.”

    Heath and his children are rebuilding a new life together as a family of three and along the way, he has seen the benefi ts of art in his own children. It became a refuge from the intense emotions associated with their loss. He would watch them do something simple like draw, colour or write a poem that had nothing to do with their mother but before long, that peaceful, meditative time to refl ect would help feelings emerge.

    “I always tell them their mother is in their heart and it was remarkable to see how art would calm them down, bring them a little peace and help them feel closer to her. What better way for them to feel mommy in their hearts than when they’re in that artistic space, maybe writing a poem or painting a picture of her?”

    The demand for creative art therapy visits is steadily increasing. Last year, the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the Cross Cancer Institute saw almost 3,000 creative arts therapy visits, ranging from individual/family sessions to group-based workshops. Therapists also spend time in palliative care
    units in the cancer centres, facilitating activities that improve quality of life for cancer patients.
    During this time, patients and family members can create meaningful legacy art projects as well as share in creative activities in the time they have together. There are often waiting lists to see a therapist. The volume of group programs has also been limited. We are in urgent need of $300,000 so we don’t have to turn away patients or families.

    Together, we have the power to change lives. Be part of this $300,000 investment that will make life better for Albertans facing cancer by donating today:

    Your support will help improve the quality of life of patients which can have a positive impact on health outcomes. Your support can help families heal and build resilience.

    Thank you for making life better for Albertans facing cancer. Show less
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