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Nonprofit Uses Therapeutic Art to Help Cancer Patients and Caregivers

08/10/2017
9:38 AM
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Deb Peek, left, and Vicki MackieTwo Centennial residents are harnessing the power of therapeutic art to help support cancer survivors and their caregivers.

Vicki Mackie and Deb Peek, who met while working at University of Colorado Hospital, came up with the idea of creating Sites and Insights, Inc.®, a nonprofit foundation that uses an innovative, art-based program to help cancer survivors and caregivers. They have created a copyrighted curriculum for their workshops that teaches a new language using color and art "when the cancer story is too difficult to put into words," Mackie says. The organization is also planning wellness retreats in the mountains.

Mackie, the nonprofit’s executive director and a breast cancer survivor herself, said art enabled her to express complex feelings in a unique way, and served as a much-needed distraction from the stresses of cancer treatment. Now, she wants others to enjoy the same positive experience.

Mackie said research has shown that patients surrounded by art and color require less pain medication, experience a reduction in blood pressure, and are released from the hospital sooner than those who don’t have significant exposure to art.

“Art does heal in its own way,” she said. “It’s not to replace clinicians, but it is a way of healing.”

After her cancer treatment, and while working at UCHealth Cancer Center in the Supportive Program Department, Mackie saw the lack of art as a support for the patients and caregivers. Peek assisted her in experimenting with different "art diversions" and once they saw the success, they knew they had to somehow incorporate art and color in their environment.

Mackie and Peek took therapeutic Healing Art classes to become certified and later created their nonprofit with a mission statement that boldly declares their intent: “To Provide A Creative And Unique Way To Transform Lives Using Color, Art And Mindful Healing Programs For Cancer Patients/Survivors And Caregivers To Help Process This Life-Changing Journey.”

Sites and Insights, Inc.® — run entirely by Mackie, Peek, a board of directors, and a team of volunteers — has thus far brought therapeutic art into the lives of more than 100 survivors and caregivers in the year since obtaining 501c3 nonprofit status (note: Mackie considers a person a “survivor” beginning the day they are diagnosed).

Peek, who left her job as the hospital volunteer coordinator to dedicate herself full time as director for the 501c3, said vibrant colors can have a considerable impact on wellbeing.

“I’m very passionate about it,” Peek said. “Color changes moods and emotions, and it affects other people around you, too.”

Sites and Insights is in the process of raising money to fund a four-day, three-night retreat where survivors and caregivers will be introduced to various art modalities and participate in nature walks, Laughing Yoga classes, Tai Chi and “Mindful Photography” lessons, just to name a few. There is also a focus on camaraderie, which tends to happen naturally among those undergoing or recovering from cancer. Sites and Insights, Inc.® is now trying to find donors and local-business sponsors to help them achieve their goals.

“It’s difficult sometimes, it really is, knowing we’re so close to being able to help more people, but we don’t have the funds yet,” Peek said.

With therapeutic art becoming more accepted in the medical community, there is a growing demand for such creative therapy. In fact, Sites and Insights, Inc® already has a waiting list for upcoming workshops and retreats. That’s largely because cancer patients are seeing art as a welcome respite from the near-constant worry associated with a diagnosis, as well as a way to process their thoughts, Mackie says.

A quote provided by Jane, a cancer patient who completed a therapeutic art lesson, sums up the impact.

“After taking the class, I felt I could move forward in my life with more focus, balance, positive energy and actual joy,” Jane said. “The facilitators had a way of helping me to look inside myself to feelings that needed to be recognized and released. This happened through art. It saved me.”

Upcoming fundraiser:  Sites and Insights, Inc.® is hosting a fundraiser from noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 17 at Ursula Brewery in Aurora. Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase original art pieces created by workshop participants and bid on silent auction items.

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