At first, there’s a palpable hesitation in this classroom at Gilda’s Club at the Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia, where sixteen women are seated at two tables. At each place is a tiny glass vase filled with fresh garden flowers, a set of watercolor paints, a brush, a cup of water and an untouched sheet of watercolor paper. There’s a sense of tentativeness as each one picks up her brush and dips it first in water, then in paint. And after several strokes, there’s a sense of exhaling, of relaxing, and finally of enjoying this process.
The women are here at Camp Gilda, a retreat for any woman who has undergone cancer treatment and/or supported a loved one along their journey. Today Gena Senior, a Kathy Davis artist, will guide them in watercolor painting. Some will paint greeting cards to send; others will paint art to keep or share. Each woman has been touched by cancer in any number of ways…recently diagnosed, experiencing a return of cancer, starting treatment, finishing treatment.
The mission of the Cancer Support Community, says Senior Program Manager Beth Cribb, is to empower individuals who are facing cancer. “We offer free programs…support, lectures, social activities, meditation for mind, body and soul for anyone affected by cancer,” she explains. “Our vision statement is ‘so that no one faces cancer alone.’”
That vision is clearly realized here, where the sense of community is profound among these women, most of whom did not know each other before. And more than a pretty piece of art, each one will take with her a sense of having shared something special with others who understand.
From the artists’ hearts
“I keep all my cards from years go. I take them out and look at them. It’s worth saving them – they’re very personal. Today, I’m making thank you cards, and I might frame some. I have to send thank you cards to about thirty people for different gifts…I feel very supported.” -Jennifer
“My friend had breast cancer surgery in California and had to stay overnight, so I made this card for her.” –Joan
“I might frame this one with the purple flowers. I’m not sure what it will say. I made it to my 65th birthday, so I’ll make up something that will remind me of this week of camp and that I made it to my 65th birthday.” -Nancy
“I’m so delighted that I’ve found what I can do. Now that I know I can paint with watercolors, I’m going to start painting at the senior center. I made a butterfly for my twin granddaughters who are 5 years old. They love butterflies. I spend lots of time with them.” -Roberta