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After losing friend, Miss Troup shares with class how art therapy helped

Contributed report

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LaGRANGE — When Miss Troup County 2016 Paula Smith lost her best friend three years ago in a car accident, she began realizing that she turned to art whenever she needed to find peace.

“I’ve been painting or drawing my entire life, for as long as I could hold a pencil,” said Smith, who chose art therapy as her pageant platform. “After she died, I was an angry person. It took me awhile to realize that whenever I was feeling upset about what happened, I would start painting. Art was what helped me express my feelings. It made me feel calm and peaceful.”

In March Smith visited and painted with cancer patients and survivors at West Georgia Health at the weekly art therapy class offered by the Oncology Services department. She found kindred spirits there — those who have found that art has brought them a sense of calm in the midst of the ugly emotions that a cancer diagnosis and treatment can bring.

“With my cancer, coming here has been a stress reliever,” Michelle Mock told Smith as they each painted sandcastles with just a bit of direction from art instructor Angela Sharp. “I just started coming here four weeks ago, and it’s brought out the worries I’ve had. I wish I had started it earlier after my cancer diagnosis.”

As Smith and the others painted, she told them about her visit the day before with children in a local afterschool program.

When she arrived, one child asked her, “Are you a princess? Do you live in a castle?” She replied with a smile, “No, I live in a dorm.”

After establishing she wasn’t a princess, Smith gave each of the children a coloring book called “A Roadmap to Survival,” or ARTS. She created the book to help children learn how coloring and creating art could help them sort through their emotions as well through other creative outlets, such as dancing, singing, playing an instrument, writing a story or cooking.

“As we colored together, I shared with them that it’s important to talk to someone if they’re going through something that’s hard to handle,” she said. “But if no one is around, and you need to get your feelings out, that’s what the coloring book is for.”

In addition to illustrations, she created four words for the children to color in: “happy,” “afraid,” “excited” and “angry.” She asked them what colors they thought of when they saw each word, such as yellow for “happy” or red for “angry.”

“I told them that I have a copy of the same coloring book that I color in, and that I have two rules when I draw,” said Smith, who also gave copies of her coloring book to those attending the art therapy class. “One is that when I color when I’m upset, I let the negative emotions stick so they no longer affect me. If I color when I’m happy, I let it bounce and radiate off the paper.”

MaryAnn Hodnett, a cancer survivor who also works in Oncology Services, said the department has started providing adult coloring books and twistable crayons to patients while they are going through chemotherapy sessions, which generally last from two to six hours each.

“It can get tiring just sitting there, and it gives you something to focus on,” said Hodnett, who also helps coordinate West Georgia Health’s free Curvy Yoga therapy and nutrition therapy classes for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. “Hopefully it can help our patients relax and lose themselves in the moment while they create something beautiful.”

Cancer patients and survivors are welcome to come to the free art therapy classes, which are usually on Monday at 6 p.m. or Friday at 10 a.m. Instructors Angela Sharp and Melissa Howington take turns leading the classes.

In addition to the classes, the art room is open to all area cancer patients and survivors anytime they want to stop by and paint during regular business hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the bottom floor of the Enoch Callaway Cancer Clinic. For more information, contact Hodnett at hodnettma@wghealth.org or 706-812-2191.

ART THERAPY

Cancer patients and survivors may come to free art therapy classes, which are usually on Monday at 6 p.m. or Friday at 10 a.m. on the bottom floor of the Enoch Callaway Cancer Clinic on the West Georgia Health campus off Vernon Road. The art room is also open to all area cancer patients and survivors between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. For more information, contact MaryAnn Hodnett at hodnettma@wghealth.org or 706-812-2191.

From a press release submitted by West Georgia Health.