The Heart and Soul of Arts in Medicine

Posted October 16, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

Carol Herron assists Charles Tomayo II with a "fish" art projectDon’t be deceived by Carol Herron. She is the one you may hardly notice at the big event, the one setting up the chairs or ushering children to their seats or disappearing to find scissors or a microphone. At any arts-related event at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, Carol will be working the corners of the room, inviting children to move to the front row, cleaning up spilled glitter and glue, holding the elevator for the teenager in the wheelchair. She won’t be in the spotlight. In fact, you will barely know she’s there, standing in the back, calmly taking in her surroundings, quietly managing the hubbub.

Yet, Carol Herron deserves to be noticed. She may be petite, but she’s a powerhouse. She heads the Arts in Medicine Program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, which treats more childhood cancer and hematology patients than any other program in the U.S., with patients coming from 35 states and 26 countries around the world. Her job includes supervising over 90 volunteers and artists from nonprofit organizations across the city, overseeing Making a Mark, an annual event showcasing art from more than 350 kids being treating for cancer and blood disorders, and organizing hundreds of performances and hands-on workshops with patients every year.

With a Master’s degree in Recreation Therapy as well as experience in psychiatric health care and physical rehabilitation, Carol brings specialized knowledge to her daily work. She understands the theoretical value of the arts in medicine, but she also knows the practical power of the arts in a way that transcends numbers. Every day she facilitates experiences so that children can step beyond the confines of the typical hospital world and for a few minutes or hours be transformed by doing photography and painting, by watching puppeteers and magicians and operas, and by writing stories and poems and songs.

As the WITS writer-in-residence for many years at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, I feel honored to work with Carol Herron. I learn so much under her tutelage and guidance—how to listen to and respect these children who face cancer and blood disorders, how to believe deeply that the arts matter, and how to give fully and unconditionally. In life and death situations, you slowly learn that healing comes in many forms. It’s not always flashy; it’s often quiet and behind-the-scenes. Thank you, Carol Herron, for your work doing what truly matters, healing the world.

Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools (WITS)

* Thank you to The Periwinkle Foundation, which funds the WITS program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center.

Making a Mark: Raising Awareness of Childhood Cancer

Posted September 8, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

September 2011 is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  To raise  awareness, Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers (TCCHC)  sponsors an extraordinary event called Making a Mark, the annual art  exhibit presented by The Periwinkle Foundation.

The Periwinkle Foundation, which reaches more than 4,000 children every year, provides programs for children, young people,  and their families who are challenged by cancer and other life-threatening  illnesses. It operates Camp Periwinkle, Camp YOLO, Family Camp, and the Long Term Survivor Program.  It also supports the Arts & Creative  Writing Program at the hospital, which culminates each year in Making a  Mark.  Writers in the Schools (WITS) is honored to partner with The  Periwinkle Foundation and offer creative writing workshops in the clinic every week.

Every September I look forward to Making A Mark, which features art and  creative writing by patients and their siblings. The poems, stories, and  visual art make a powerful statement about the healing that the arts can  bring to patients and their families affected by cancer and blood disorders.  In addition to the framed artwork, there are copies available of The Splendid Review, a publication of creative writing by patients and siblings who worked during the year with a WITS writer.

One aspect I particularly love is the collaborative piece that a professional guest artist, Periwinkle volunteers, and the children create together.  Come out and meet Guest Artist Ann Johnson and see the amazing Friendship Fence that she and the children have created. You are invited to Texas Children’s Cancer Center’s Making a Mark® art exhibition on Sunday, September 11, 2011, from 2-4 pm on the Auxiliary Bridge between Texas Children’s Hospital Clinical Care Center and West Tower. Complimentary valet parking will be provided at the Clinical Care Center and the reception is open to the public. 

A panel of judges selected blue ribbon pieces of art in three groups they felt most effectively represented Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Past exhibits have been shown in Japan, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, and numerous cities throughout the state of Texas.  Don’t miss your chance to see this year’s inspirational exhibit presented by The Periwinkle Foundation.

Here I Go

Posted September 9, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

Texas Children’s Cancer Center is full of young authors. I work with them every week through WITS and always leave inspired.  The children in outpatient treatment come in to the clinic regularly, so I often get to build a relationship with them. When we are first getting to know each other, many children choose safe, familiar writing topics.  They talk about puppy dogs and basketball and trips to the beach.  Their words conjure up “normal” lives, which they want to return to as soon as possible.

As time goes on, some children find power in writing more directly about their illnesses—how it feels to be told you have cancer or what happens when kids tease you at school or how you deal with the effects of chemo.  Opening up about their sickness takes an incredible amount of courage.Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman, a teenager who is dealing with a recent relapse in her cancer, wrote this song several years ago when she learned that she was cancer-free.  It is an A-Z list poem that captures her will to survive.  Please join us in sending healing thoughts and love to Alice Hoffman, a longtime participant in WITS.  Her song was mixed and recorded by Purple Songs Can Fly, another wonderful project at Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

posted by Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools


Here I Go by Alice Hoffman

A is for Atavan
B is for Bactrim
C is for Codeine
D is for Dilauden

E is for Excedrin
F is for Fluoxodine
G is for Groggy
H is Hydrocodone

Cancer treatment for two years
Radiation, Chemo
Difficult by here I am
I made it, here I go

I is for Iodine
J is for Jittery
K is for Kitral
L is for Loratab

M is for Marinol
N is for Nexium
O is for “Oh My Gosh”
P is for Previcid

Cancer treatment for two years
Radiation, Chemo
Difficult by here I am
I made it, here I go

Q is for Queezy
R is for Really Long
S is for Stomache Ache
T is for Tremodol

U is for Underweight
V is for Verconizol
W is for Weepy
X is for X-Ray

Cancer treatment for two years
Radiation, Chemo
Difficult by here I am
I made it, here I go

Y is for YoYo moods
Z is for Zofran
Mac & Cheese & drinking Boost
Part of the Med Plan

Cancer treatment for two years
Radiation, Chemo
Difficult by here I am
I made it
Here I go
Here I go…here I go…
here I go….

by Alice Hoffman

[Photo of Alice was taken by Yvonne Feece at the WITS Young Writers Reading in May 2008 at The Menil Collection. The WITS program at Texas Children’s is funded by the Periwinkle Foundation.]

Faced with Illness, Children Embrace Hope

Posted August 26, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

September is always one of my favorite times at Texas Children’s Cancer Center.  Why? Because it’s the time of year for Making A Mark, sponsored by The Periwinkle Foundation.  Making A Mark features art by children touched by cancer and blood disorders. Carol Herron, Director of Arts in Medicine, collects watercolor paintings, crayon drawings, clay sculptures, black-and-white photographs, poems, and whatever else the children can imagine and create.

This September 13, 2009, you are invited to view the results of this annual extravaganza.  The art exhibition will take place at Texas Children’s Hospital on the Auxiliary Bridge between the Clinical Care Center and the West Tower from 2:00-4:00 pm.  There will be lots of creative, kid-oriented activities, plus food and fun for all.

Please come support our young writers and artists at the annual Making A Mark Art show.  As the WITS writer who works with children every week at the Cancer Center, I will be in attendance and I promise that you won’t be disappointed.  The show gives children a safe place to explore feelings that include fear, joy, boredom, excitement, pain, love.  The exhibition celebrates the power of hope and the spirit of creativity that can exist in the midst of illness. Join us.

Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools