PROSPERITY — Waves crash and lighting strikes in the distance, yet the sailor and sailboat move from chaos into safe harbor. That imagery filled the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Atlanta thanks to the outreach of Steve and Janice Bell.
Steve Bell, a retired professional photographer and amateur watercolor artist, began painting three years ago under the instruction of Prosperity’s Anna Kay Singley. The art became art therapy for him after his wife, Janice, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2012.
Steve said that often as his wife was being treated at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, he would be in the room with her, painting. As her primary caregiver and advocate, painting was not only a stress release for him but the images on the walls of her room helped her focus on a life on the other side of surgeries and chemotherapy treatments.
“When she was doing inpatient treatment, I painted watercolor art to put around the room to brighten it up,” he said.
At some point in the creative process, he became inspired to paint a sailboat moving ahead of a storm as the boat approaches a lighthouse.
“For me, the outreach of the Cancer Center is symbolized there because in a very real sense my wife and I went there searching for medical care. What we found was the safe harbor that gave us the tools to weather the storm (of chemotherapy and surgeries),” he said.
Nurses and staff noticed, and Bell began giving the paintings to them. He also gave them to staff and the chaplain to distribute to other patients needing a lift. To date, Steve has donated over 40 original paintings to Cancer Center of America staff.
“This is a ministry, of sorts, to help people,” Steve said. “When we meet people as we are camping, they will see me painting and sometimes I give them a painting with the request that they in turn make a donation to the American Cancer Society.”
He said his long-term goal is to produce this image as a print and sell the prints to raise money for a fund at the center that provides assistance to patients who cannot afford medication or treatments they need.
For Janice, giving back means sharing her story and encouraging others who are battling cancer. Yet, this mother of four who has 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren worked hard throughout the treatment process to make sure cancer did not define her.
Thanks to the support of her employer, The University of South Carolina, she continued working in the Human Resources Department by telecommuting. Maintaining that identity was valuable but equally valuable was the couple’s welcoming experience at the cancer center.
Janice did as many adults do and put off having a routine colonoscopy for years. But after a 2012 physical showed some concerns, her doctor ordered the test. It came back as cancer and the couple began to see a myriad of specialists. After conducting extensive research with the help of their son, Mike Bell, they decided to forgo MUSC, Duke or a cancer center in Houston.
Instead they chose Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Atlanta.
The timing was fortunate as the Center, funded by a philanthropist whose mother was a cancer patient, opened in August 2012.
“We saw television ads about the center and how they treat the entire patient and decided this needed to be a place to consider,” Janice said.
She walked into the Center and was greeted with a hug from staff members, and she said at that moment she knew it was the place for her to heal.
“The vibe in the center was so supportive and positive,” Janice said, “and the team of specialists were all in one location.”
Having her entire treatment team contained within one facility eased stress on the couple because the team work kept lines of communication clear.
“You can have an MRI and CT scan done that morning and by the afternoon your treatment team will have reviewed the film and be discussing with you what it means and what the most appropriate treatment options are,” she said.
Doctors used acupuncture, naturaphatic medicine, specialize nutrition, meditation and other mind-body medicine to promote healing after Janice’s surgery to remove cancer from her colon and to remove cancerous lymph nodes.
Ten days after her colon surgery she and Steve walked along Myrtle Beach to try and keep her strength up. Since cancer is systemic and the treatments for cancer are also systemic, the brain can be affected, which means oncologists pay mind to a patient’s mental health as they undergo treatment.
The staff, she said, also was available for her husband to support him as her primary caregiver should he have had emotionally or physically related medical needs. After her body was strengthened, the team introduced six rounds of chemotherapy.
That walking routine changed to her husband standing by her side as she slowly walked a treadmill, but together as a two-person team, they embraced the help of their treatment team.
Another major battle loomed, as in February 2013 doctors removed the lower lobe of her liver, which contained cancerous cells. The surgery was risky but the cancer had metastasized, so it had to be done.
Shining light, sharing hope
Janice’s cancer is now dormant, meaning CT scans cannot find any new cancer. The couple said they have faith that whatever comes, the staff at the center will help them through it.
In the meantime they want to help others by sharing their story and the odds they were able to overcome thanks to the state-of-the-art treatment they received there.
She can contact her care manager, mind/body psychologist type medical professional, by phone at any time to help deal with any emotional issues that come up as her body continues to heal and find balance.
Janice said the weeks they spent in Atlanta provided a respite, a healing space, that she and her husband needed.
For the past year Janice has felt good over all. She continues to build her strength from the systemic ordeal her body has been through the past few years. As she has done throughout the Center’s program, she continues to focus on balance in her life. Work demands are balanced with doing something good for herself such as reading, shopping or traveling to state parks with her husband in their RV.
For more information about the center see www.cancercenter.com/southeastern/.