Jacob is one of hundreds of young patients who participated in the Arts in Medicine program’s most recent undertaking: the design of three spacesuits. Over the course of several months, the children painted pieces of art by hand that were sewn onto a replica spacesuit. The second suit, which was created primarily by pediatric patients isolated during their treatments, is a real flight suit. The third suit will be an international suit involving other hospitals.
“The spacesuit looks so cool,” says Jacob, who has contributed to two of the suits. “It’s neat to know so many people worked together to make it happen. One of the best things about it is that before she passed away, a really good friend of mine was able to paint elephants on the sleeve over an area I painted on the suit that's going to space.”
Healing through art
Jacob began participating in MD Anderson’s Arts in Medicine program while he was recovering from major surgery in the spring of 2015. He’d been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma just a few months earlier, and subsequently spent more than 120 days in the hospital and received more than 160 doses of chemotherapy.
“Art is an activity that is not limited by Jacob's disability, so it has been a very positive experience,” says his mother, Letha Ballard. “It’s fun to see him getting excited about something.”
Reaching for the stars
When Jacob heard about the spacesuit art project, he was immediately interested.
“He has always loved math and science,” Letha says. “And he loves the big dreams program director Ian Cion has for the project and the idea of sending a suit into space. Everything about this project has been exciting, educational and fun.”
As a part of the project, pediatric cancer patients spent a day at NASA’s Johnson Space Center near Houston. Jacob got to visit Mission Control and other areas of the facility that are not included in regular tours. “Now I want to work with space exploration vehicles,” Jacob says. “Having an opportunity to personally drive one of those was amazing. So was getting to try on the spacesuit. I didn’t want to take it off.”
One of the best parts of the Arts in Medicine projects is the connections children build with each other while receiving treatment.
And because the Arts in Medicine program’s projects tend to be large-scale, they’re also collaborative, giving patients and their families a chance to work together and get their minds off treatment.
“I am so glad I had this amazing opportunity,” Jacob says. “Art gives me something I can do when I have to be at MD Anderson. Talking to Ian and to other people while we painted was cool. Ian is fun to talk to, and he makes art fun. I also made a few friends that I still visit every week when I come in for physical therapy.”