Nonprofit battles cancer with art

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By Larry Lannan

It may be a stretch to fathom that art can win over cancer, but a Fishers couple firmly believes they have an answer to help patients cope with their cancer symptoms and treatments.

John and Tina Gianfagna lead the local nonprofit group Creating Hope. It all started when their daughter, Jeanette Shamblen, an information technology professional, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a difficult stem cell transplant procedure. Shamblen started to paint and found she no longer felt the pain. Her physician said at the time the painting likely triggered endorphins in her body. After she returned to Indianapolis, Shamblen founded Creating Hope to help other cancer patients cope with the disease.

Shamblen died of breast cancer on July 3, 2003. Since then, her parents have continued to keep Creating Hope alive as a provider of art materials for cancer patients. The group’s Hope Kits consist of step-by-step instructions on how to create a colorful bookmark or just watercolor paint in a Hope Kit booklet.

John admits he was a skeptic of creative healing at first.

“I didn’t believe any of it,” he said.

However, firsthand experience seeing how something as simple as painting with watercolors can help a cancer patient’s life changed his mind.

Tina emphasizes Creating Hope is part of healing and is not a cure.

“This is not a miracle cure,” she said. “You cope with what you’re dealing with today.”

If you wonder whether medical science recognizes such programs, look no further than local oncologist Dr. Larry Cripe. Cripe is best known for being the physician treating a particular Leukemia patient, Colts Head Football Coach Chuck Pagano. Cripe is a member of the Creating Hope Board of Directors.

As with any small nonprofit group, Creating Hope is badly in need of two things, financial support and volunteers. John and Tina are volunteers themselves, taking no salary for the work they do with the charity.

The Geist Kiwanis Club has been very supportive, providing financial assistance. Ten-year volunteer Linda Yee is a cancer survivor, artist and member of the Creating Hope board.

Creating Hope will be teaming with two other local charities, Indy Survivor Oars and Team Luke, for a Feb. 22 fund-raising event at the Indianapolis Yacht Club. The event features wine tasting and, for the first time this year, craft beer tasting. For more information on the event, visit www.vinesforlife.com.

For those who have considered volunteering but haven’t yet decided to make the commitment, Tina has some advice.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “There’s a place for you.”

For more information on Creating Hope, visit its website at www.creatinghope.us.

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