Art therapy helps young cancer patients

A Maryland hospital is helping young cancer patients cope with their diagnosis and treatment through art therapy.

Tracy’s Kids is having a positive impact at Sinai Hospital, where art therapy has been just as important to Evan as it has been to his 8-year-old sister, Elise, who was diagnosed last year with leukemia. Her family said it changed everything.

“Before her diagnosis, she was very outgoing, very playful, very free-spirited, and kind of overnight, she became very withdrawn, fearful,” said Mandy Kwon, Elise’s mother.

Elise started creating projects with Danielle Eichner, an art therapist with Tracy’s Kids, which gives control to pediatric cancer patients and their families who feel powerless over their diagnosis, treatment and fear about the future.

“They can pick a project and they can have full control over what they decide to do, what materials they decide to use, and so to just provide that and a little bit of normalcy in the hospital environment is one of my biggest goals,” Eichner said.

“For months, I would try to talk to her, and she wouldn’t answer. It would either be a nod or a no or a shake of the head, but once Danielle started art therapy, it’s like our patient has so much to say that she just can’t stop talking about it,” said Dr. Aziza Shad, a pediatric oncologist at Sinai.

Eichner has a unique perspective, as she was diagnosed with cancer when she was 11 and Shad was her doctor. Tracy, who the program is named after, was Eichner’s art therapist.

Elise’s father, Dr. Christopher Kwon, is a cardiologist at Sinai. His daughter’s struggle has given him a new way to relate to patients and respect for the power of googly eyes and pom-poms.

“It is drawing her back to what she used to be,” Christopher Kwon said.

“Personally, I can’t even imagine how you can treat a child with cancer without using art therapy,” Shad said.

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