Caring Arts


Individual Stories
How Caring Arts made a difference in the lives of Chicago area cancer patients, families or caregivers, in their own words.

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If you've got a story to share about your experience with Caring Arts, please email it to us, and we'll share it here!
Kyle Michalek: Lessons on Giving & Receiving    
If anyone can speak to music’s impact on healing, it’s Kyle Michalek. The college student and budding musician has been involved with the Caring Arts Foundation since the age of nine and credits his guitar, as well as Caring Artist Bill Syniar, with helping him get through a tough time. Diagnosed with a pituitary tumor in 2003, Michalek, a classic rock enthusiast, met Syniar when Michalek began treatment at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

“When I started my first round of chemo, I went to the hospital once a week for a year,” Michalek said. “Bill was performing music for the kids there. I just started talking to him and told him I played guitar.  He showed me some stuff and eventually I started bringing my guitar and jamming with him.”  Twice over the next 5 years the tumor returned. Kyle’s mother Dina says that instead of invasive surgery, they decided on chemo—which meant Kyle would see much more of Syniar.  “Bill became ‘Guitar Bill’ to us,” Dina, Kyle’s mother, said. “Kyle was extremely sick and it was a real positive that Bill was there.” Now studying music at Elgin Community college, Kyle gives back to others what Syniar gave to him—the healing power of music. Last summer he visited Lurie Children’s Hospital with Syniar to perform for the children in oncology. Dina says she and Kyle are grateful for the support of the Caring Arts Foundation and the relationship they’ve developed with Syniar. “Caring Arts Foundation is wonderful,” she said. “When you’re going through chemo once a week and see your child sick, to have this wonderful man ask ‘Who’s your favorite band?’ or ‘Hey, let me teach you this song,’ is great. All the way home your child is throwing up and not feeling good, yet you just had this wonderful thing happen. It was a good thing in a bad circumstance.”
  Kyle & Dina
Roderick Boyer on Living in Technicolor    
“It’s amazing what you can learn in a year. I found that one horrible year has given me a perspective on mortality, death, pain, and even love, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m a prostate cancer survivor. ‘Before and after’ (cancer) for me was the dividing line between seeing the world in black-and-white versus in Technicolor. The lights came on for the darkest possible reasons.”

“I started attending the Caring Arts program at Gilda’s Club after my diagnosis. It’s ironic how easily we can forget how wonderful life really is. Through my friends at Caring Arts and Gilda’s Club, I’m totally different now because of the creative activities they offer. Our painting instructor, Jordi, encourages one’s talents and helps bring out the true “you” in your work. Through him and my other friends at Gilda’s Club, I’m learning to love the journey and not worry about the destination. Life is made up of moments and today is the only guarantee you get. Caring Arts, thank you for encouraging me to express my thoughts and feelings through words and paint.”

  Roderick Boyer
In Memory of Charmaine Atkenson Crane    
Charmaine Atkenson Crane, was an active member of the Caring Arts program at Gilda's Club. Charmaine passed away in 2012 at age 52. Her husband, Ken Crane, says he is grateful for the respite from cancer that painting provided to him, Charmaine, and their daughters. In particular, they were fond of their friendship with healing artist Jordi Pedrola. “For somebody who is dealing with a serious disease, art is really the best thing they can do,” Crane said. “It offers an escape from worrying, medical procedures and things like that. I think it was one of the great gifts of the program. And I can't say enough good things about Jordi. He has such a wonderful way of seeing the world.   It's impossible not to be happy when you're doing art or talking art with Jordi.”   Charmaine
Bridget Hanson on The Power of Music    
Bridget Hanson, recreational therapist at University of Chicago Hospitals, says that the impact of Caring Arts musicians Bill Syniar and Petar Kecenovici on her patients has been immeasurable. Many of her patients are long-term and repeat, so they come in for several scheduled cycles of therapy. “Having the Caring Arts performances to look forward to makes treatment more tolerable. Many patients now try to schedule their treatment to coincide with the musicians' appearances. To me, it’s mind-blowing that a person actually looks forward to coming to the hospital because they want to make sure they hear the music! Music is one of the best things. It has so many healing properties. It connects people with positive emotions that they have a hard time connecting with while hospitalized and promotes a whole different outlook. It’s one of the very best interventions and that’s why we have such intense responses from patients.”
  Bridget Hanson
Janet Anne on The Arts & Healing    
“I’ve participated in a few activities by the Caring Arts Foundation, including painting with Jordi Pedrola at Gilda's Club, Chicago; listening to the lovely guitar/cello duo of Bill and Petar at Rush University Medical Center; and writing in the Reconnect Through Creative Journaling workshop with Felicia Hudson at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. I was a “regular” in the journaling workshop. I have always written — letters and poetry, in particular, Haiku — just not in a directed manner.  In the workshop, Felicia raised thought-provoking topics and questions. Sometimes the writing was fun, but there have been times when the feelings touched upon during reflection have been hard to feel good about. That is part of the growth and healing in this endeavor. We've also created collages and other visuals to express ourselves during our continued recovery from cancer.  This group is very social. We joke, complain, share information and comfort each other when  times are rough for any individual. I really appreciate the diversion the Caring Arts program provides. Even when the path to creating is sad or difficult, it is still good because the release of that energy is another way to get better.”   Janet Anne
Ruth Abbinanti: Living In the Moment    
“Creativity has always been a part of my life. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2005, I put my flute aside as I just didn't have the energy to play. Then I came to Gilda’s Club. At first I got involved with the clay class, but little by little I began talking to Jordi Pedrola and I began to see what the painters were doing. In time I overcame my doubts and insecurities about my technical abilities and sat down to paint. It has been a liberating experience. I'm learning to take more chances with my creations and to not worry about the finished product. Sometimes I get out my feelings, as when I memorialized a support group friend and her efforts to prepare her children for her death so they would continue to live fulfilling lives. Art helps me to live in the moment.”
Patricia Kaulus' Painting Class    
“I am a patient at University of Chicago Hospitals. My therapy requires that I receive chemo infusions every 3 weeks for a year. During the past several months I have come to know Jordi Pedrola. He is a wonderful, caring and patient man who, through his art, makes my day (and the days of many others) so much more enjoyable. I look forward to seeing him and painting my newest masterpiece. Although I usually choose a picture that Jordi has drawn out, I really enjoy painting during my infusion therapy. It makes the time go so much faster (I have to be there 3 to 5 hours at a time) and I find painting helps to relax me. My family also loves Jordi and they can't wait to see my latest painting. I joked yesterday that I should stop telling my family that I am going for my next treatment and instead say that I am going to painting class. Thank you for for all you do for the patients at University of Chicago.”
  Patti Kaulus
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