Professional artist Dani Herrera was in her happy place, working on a commissioned piece for a client when a debilitating pain hit her right between the eyes. “I literally fell to the floor the pain was so intense,” she told me. After a series of tests, doctors told her she had a pituitary tumor, and because of the location of the tumor, she may lose her eyesight during the surgery to remove it.
“At first I was numb,” Dani admitted. “It didn’t hit me, what they were saying. I would come home and find an art piece to escape into, but as I’m working, I started thinking ‘Oh, these colors! I won’t be able to see them anymore.’”
After a difficult surgery and seven days in the hospital, Dani went home with the tumor gone and her eyesight intact.
But the experience helped her realize how therapeutic artwork can be for people dealing with debilitating or life-threatening illnesses.
“You question everything: ‘Why me, why am I going through this?’” she said. “It keeps you humble. I’m thankful because I can look at pictures of my pieces and remember what emotions I was feeling or what I was struggling with. It’s almost like a sigh of relief when you finish that picture because you dumped all your emotions there and then they’re gone.”
Knowing how therapeutic artwork was for her, Dani signed up to teach art classes to cancer survivors through the Cancer Connection. Dani uses tiny pieces of fabric and paper to create amazing works of art: portraits of celebrities, everyday objects, and quirky pieces she imagines and brings to life. Now she helps others—even those who don’t consider themselves artistic—to forget their diagnoses for a while and focus their talents creatively. “I show them it’s relaxing to experience art with your fingers. It’s a release of tension sometimes to cut things and put things together,” she said.
Experts say there are many health benefits to art therapy. In addition to shifting a patient’s focus and helping them relax for a bit, patients feel an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment when they complete a project. But they’re also sharing a special camaraderie that lifts their spirits as they work; a sense that they’re not alone.
“I connect with them on a personal level,” Dani explained. “I listen to their stories, and I tell them my story. It challenges your emotions and it can make you sympathize with someone else. They see your piece and it gives them hope. There’s a lot of healing power in that.”
You can view more of Dani’s unique artwork through her paperDENIMart Facebook page.
I’d also like to invite you to participate in our Friends for Life community knit-up on August 5 at the Sylvania Historical Village during the August Red Bird Art Walk! Bring whatever color yarn speaks to you and we’ll share some camaraderie, relaxation and fun for a good cause. Click here for more information and I’ll see you on August 5!
For 20 years, Chrys Peterson was the face of WTOL news, anchoring the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. She is now a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.