LaGRANGE — Brushes and assorted paints sat waiting on a folding table in a small room at West Georgia Health’s Enoch Callaway Cancer Clinic on Friday.
Art instructor Melissa Howington of Hogansville took out her instructions and began telling her students how to begin the day’s project. The class Howington teaches isn’t just any art class though — the students are all cancer patients, survivors or caregivers and the brush strokes are more than paint on a canvas, it’s therapy and togetherness, Howington said.
“Once you get involved and you start painting, it just takes you to another world,” she said. “You’re not even in your same frame of mind, or thinking about what you’ve got to do the rest of the day or tomorrow, or the therapy that you’re going through. It just hopefully takes their mind off it so that they’re focusing on their brush strokes and how their painting is going to come out … so it just takes them somewhere else and that’s the best part of it.”
Howington, who has taught the class for about two years, volunteers her time to help patients like Rhonda Bailey, a 41-year-old cancer patient who attended Friday’s class.
Bailey was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and is undergoing treatment at West Georgia Health.
“I found a lump myself,” Bailey said. “I went to my doctor and did all the testing and biopsy and we found it was breast cancer.”
Her cancer diagnosis was frightening, Bailey said. For her, the unknowns were the most difficult part of the entire process.
“Now I know (about the treatment process) but back then, I didn’t know if the cancer had spread or if it was contained,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what treatment options were going to be available for me, but God has blessed me through it all. My diagnosis was great. I had a double mastectomy and taken care of all of it. I don’t have to do chemo or radiation. I do have to take a medicine for the next five years to prevent it from coming back, but it’s been great and I’m very blessed.”
Bailey, who by trade is a mail carrier in Hogansville, has come to three of the art therapy classes — even bringing one of her daughters once. Bailey said the camaraderie and companionship of being with other cancer patients and survivors has helped her on her journey.
“It’s nice to come to a place where people are similar to me and share our stories and then focusing on the art takes my mind off of what’s going on with me,” she said.
Bailey learned about the program through Wanda Lowe, a WGH cancer navigator who helps patients understand their treatment options, diagnosis and services like art therapy that are available.
“(Wanda) gave me a call after my diagnosis and surgery and told me about all of the things going on here for cancer patients and survivors,” Bailey said. “I started coming and this is actually my third session, so I’m early diagnosis. I’ve only had cancer for about three months.
Every week, Bailey said she looks forward to her Friday art session — especially her fellow students.
“I actually slept late this morning, so I was rushing to get here on time,” she said. “I love to come. I love Melissa and I’ve known her for a long time and I love getting to know all the new people that are here. I really do like this program and I’m glad Mrs. Wanda told me about it — it has been a God sent, very much a blessing. I can’t wait every week to come.”
On Friday, Howington and her students painted peaceful cherry blossoms silhouetted against a dark sky with a full moon. As her students worked on the blossoms, Howington reflected on her work as an art therapist.
“I like to be a part of everybody’s journey … just to be a little light in a dark world,” she said.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter for LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.