When 8-year-old Lara Amer was hospitalized with an aggressive and rare cancer called Burkitt’s lymphoma, she became distraught and wouldn’t leave her room at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital for days. Then, an art teacher arrived with art supplies and encouraged Lara to create paintings and drawings that expressed her feelings.
That’s when the young girl’s attitude began to change. She began taking walks around the floor, meeting other hospitalized children, and participating in activities, including Children’s Art Project classes. Led by program supervisor Kasey Marsh, the classes teach children to create colorful freestyle or theme-driven art.
“A child’s sense of self can become diminished during treatment,” Marsh says. “Art is an empowering and effective means of expression, and studies show it can improve mood, outlook and sometimes even physical health.”
Art took her mind off cancer after childhood lymphoma diagnosis
Lara was first diagnosed in January 2018 after becoming ill during the winter break.
Her mother, Mai Ramadan, remembers how upset Lara became after learning of her diagnosis.
“She was angry, sad, and in a lot of pain,” Ramadan says. “Her grandmother was treated at MD Anderson, so she knew about cancer.”
The hospital offered activities for patients, but Lara wasn’t interested – until the art teacher visited.
“I like art because it was really fun and it took my mind off being sick,” Lara says.
Several of Lara’s creations are featured by the Children’s Art Project, which sells merchandise like cards, gifts and apparel, all inspired by the artwork of pediatric patients. Products are available online, in select retail stores and in MD Anderson gift shops. Proceeds support programs for pediatric cancer patients. The Children’s Art Project recently celebrated its 46th anniversary.
A preference for art, even after childhood lymphoma treatment
After completing six cycles of chemotherapy, Lara, now 10, shows no evidence of cancer. Every two months, she returns to MD Anderson for checkups. Her appointments are coordinated to coincide with art classes, which she still attends.
An active fifth-grader, she joined the neighborhood softball league and is a talented violin player. But art is still one of the activities she loves best.
“We’re happy to see art continue to make a positive impact on Lara’s life,” Ramadan says. “And we’re thrilled to see her artwork featured on cards and gifts. But mostly, we’re grateful for the treatment that saved her life.”