(Originally published in Dartmouth-Hitchcock's CENTERVIEW)
This is the last in a three-part series on Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Arts Program.
Nanette Andrews already had a working knowledge of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s cancer program. Her father, Leo DuCharme, was already being treated here. And then, last fall, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—and joined her father in the infusion suite.
“They’re well-loved by all of us,” said Lee Babcock, RN, Andrews’ nurse. “Often times they would be sitting side-by-side receiving their treatment together like a social event.”
“It’s a terrible thing, cancer, but you can’t cry all the time,” Andrews said. “You have to find some light at the end of the tunnel, so that’s what Dad and I did. He truly is my hero.”
In early July, Andrews was finishing her latest treatment so she could go home to say goodbye to her father, who by then had started hospice care. And that’s when her old friend, Marv Klassen-Landis, entered her room. Andrews knew him well from her years teaching at Hartland Elementary School.
“When Marv came in, I was not doing too well,” she said. “I needed a blood transfusion. We cried, we laughed, we talked and talked.”
That day, Klassen-Landis happened to be working as the writer in residence for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Creative Arts Program, which includes artist Rebecca Gottesman, therapeutic harpist Margaret Stephens and several volunteers. Klassen-Landis spends time with patients, families and writing groups, transcribing their words and helping format them into poems, stories or letters.
“He captured everything I wanted to say in three little snippets,” Andrews said. “It was just meant to be. I said, ‘Marv, I feel so much better. I haven’t had my transplant yet but you got my mind off that.’ I think we talked for a couple hours, poor man. I talked his ear off.”
“It turned into something that aided the whole family,” Babcock said. “Marv organized Nanette’s words into a format that she could share with everyone, not just a personal memento for Nanette.”
Later, at her father’s memorial service, that poem became her father’s eulogy.
Klassen-Landis says that writing, like the other facets of the program, helps patients face their circumstances in whatever way is right for them. Some seek the catharsis of expressing pain and letting it go; others reflect on and share their lives; others seek out humor and hope. And, he adds, “writing, like any creative activity, catches us up in a process of discovery and production, releasing endorphins, reducing stress, and reminding us that we are do-ers and makers, not victims.”
“When we talk about treating the whole patient—body, mind, emotions, spirit—we believe that a hospital–based arts program plays a vital role in the commitment to patient-centered care and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s mission,” said Elisabeth Gordon of DHMC’s Arts Program, who coordinates the Creative Arts Program with Deb Steele of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC).
“We have all three art forms: art, music and writing,” Babcock said. “Different folks use different methods, so we can tailor what works for each person.”
“You have such a wonderful program that more people should know about it,” Andrews said. “I have been so very fortunate to have listened to Margaret”s beautiful harp, made bead creations with my dear friend Rebecca, and of course, written with my other dear friend, Marv.”
“It’s such a well-rounded program,” she added. “It just takes your mind off things and it gives you peace.”
Nanette Andrews July 3, 2012
My dad is my hero, an incredible human being. He’s been through three cancers. I’ve seen him in such excruciating pain. He was 79 when he went through two chemos at the same time. He is a survivor, an incredible human being. He said, “I want to live. I don’t want to leave the ones I love.” He always cracks jokes to make others happy. He always keeps his dignity. It’s bittersweet that my dad is dying. I don’t want to lose him, but he is at peace. He won’t have to go through any more chemo. He’s fought his war with cancer and deserves a break. He says, “I’ve led an incredible life, with a wonderful family.” Just this past year Dad drove up to Canada to play golf and cribbage on his annual trek with his three friends—all in their eighties and nineties. He enjoyed his life. Even now he isn’t ready to stop. It makes me cry to think he’ll be gone soon. So many people love him. He was an incredible boss at the Post Office. He took great care of my mom with her heart disease, and of me, too. He didn’t preach or tell you what to do. He let his children and grandchildren figure things out for ourselves, but would be there for us when we needed him. He was always there for us and always will be. Not right here on earth, but he will always be here with us. My dad truly is my hero.
To learn more about Creative Arts or to request that an artist visit your department, call (603) 650.7751. To request harpist Margaret Stephens, contact Patient and Family Support Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.