Tree of Life Reflects Young Patients' Journeys

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treeoflife.jpgWhen more than 300 pairs of tiny hands come together to work on an art project, the result can be huge.

This month, patients and families from the MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital gathered to unveil their year-long, artistic masterpiece -- the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life stands nearly 8 feet high and is made of a variety of media including strands of multicolored beads, bark made from hand-colored paper and leaves cut from decorated material.

Under the tree rests a garden of flowers, butterflies, birds and more, all created by pediatric patients and their siblings at MD Anderson through the Arts in Medicine Program.

Every handmade piece of the tree represents the unique journey of each patient or sibling.

For some patients, the Tree of Life was a weekly arts activity that got their minds off treatment and introduced them to other patients.

For families, it was an avenue that connected parents with their children for a fun activity, despite the seriousness of their child's disease.

From cane to talking piece
Paloma_TreeofLife.jpgPaloma Marroquin, 15, has been through multiple surgeries in her treatment process, which have impacted her mobility. Last year, she was given a cane to help her walk, but the teen was too embarrassed to use it in public.

Ian Cion, director of the Arts in Medicine Program, met Marroquin at the hospital one day, and the two of them came up with a solution for her cane.

Using some rhinestones, glitter and other accessories, they "blinged" out Marroquin's cane. With a transformed art piece by her side, she now is proud to show off her cane and receives compliments from friends and strangers alike.

The cane was the start of many art sessions between Cion and Marroquin, including working on the Tree of Life and using imagery to help her cope with pain while her medical team diagnosed the source of the problem.

"Ian is amazing, especially with the ideas he comes up with," Marroquin says. "He gets you working on things that get your mind focused on art instead of not feeling well."

Who needs Air Jordans

Whether working in a group setting while waiting in the outpatient clinic or having a one-on-one session with Cion in the patient's hospital room, each child and sibling had an opportunity to contribute to the large tree.

Jonathan Ho, 13, has spent a lot of time working with Cion in the outpatient clinic and during his inpatient stays. He came up with the idea to design shoes for the large bird standing next to the tree.

Ho used his love for coloring to create some wildly colored sneakers and socks for the bird, which he calls "Air Jonathans." Nike might have a new product on the horizon.

Now that the Tree of Life is complete, Ho is working with Cion on an animated book using digital art.

No medicine, no art
GustCCH.jpgFor Liza Nin, mother of 7-year-old Gustavo, the Arts in Medicine Program has been a welcome addition to her son's routine at the hospital. Despite receiving maintenance treatment for his lymphoma, Gustavo has the energy of any young boy looking for an adventure.

"For the first year of our treatment, we were at the hospital a lot, so having Ian there to work with us was great," Liza says. "It helped give Gustavo something to do to fill the time while we waited."

Liza also said that because her son loves art so much, she used his art sessions with Ian as an incentive for Gustavo to take his medicine.

"It is awesome," Gustavo says, referring to the tree. "I loved coloring designs and cutting out the leaves best."

Like many of the designers, Gustavo weaved his personal interests into the tree. Being a big "Star Wars" fan, he drew several spaceships and colored them on the paper covering the tree.

A sign of hope
The Tree of Life is on display through September in The Park on Floor 2 of MD Anderson's Main Building. Then it will move to a more permanent space in October.

Visitors and employees are invited to see the artistic creations made by MD Anderson's youngest patients.

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