Ruth Aloni shows "Soothing Strings," the first charcoal still life she drew. She took up arts and crafts to help in her cancer recovery.

Art’s healing power
aids cancer patient

Ruth Aloni’s belief that crafting
helps in recovery is at the root
of a new program

Scattered throughout Ruth Aloni's Waikiki apartment are reminders of how her own art, created with an amateur's hand, has provided a sort of medicine not found in any prescription.

There's the silk flower arrangement in her foyer, made six months ago while she was undergoing her latest chemotherapy treatment. Furry blue scarves crafted last week, two months into remission, sit on a bedroom chair.

In her closet, Aloni has a portfolio of works that go as far back to when she was first diagnosed with cancer.

Among the sketched subjects: her friend's daughters, an otter and Oprah.

For Aloni the art isn't just a hobby.

It's been an integral part of her two-year cancer treatment -- something that's kept her thinking about living even when doctors feared the worst. It's kept her mind off pain, kept her thinking about today instead of tomorrow.

Earlier this year, Aloni approached the American Cancer Society in hopes of starting a healing arts program in the islands for cancer patients.

She pitched the idea with studies in hand that prove her assertions that arts can help cancer patients deal with the stress of their disease, and used her own experience as a case study.

The program, called Hands on Healing, will be launched today at the American Cancer Society, after a lot of hard work from Aloni and others who believe in the power of art in healing.

Classes in all variety of arts and crafts will be set up by mid-January for cancer patients and survivors, Aloni said.

Topics will range from lei making to cooking to juggling to yoga.

"Going through treatment is so isolating. Your friends come and go but don't stay," Aloni said. "I thought this was a good program. Patients can go to meet new friends in a nonmedical environment."

Hands on Healing is believed to be the first of its kind locally, with several local artisans and craft businesses already pledging to volunteer time, resources and space.

It's also the first to be put under the cancer society's umbrella.

In the coming months, Aloni hopes to take the program to the neighbor islands.

Eventually, she wants to go national.

"I want the patients to have a place they can go where it can soothe their soul," Aloni said yesterday after showing off her own handiwork at her Waikiki home. "Hopefully, it will give them that thing to absorb themselves."

She said the program's mission is to "provide an environment for those facing cancer to explore and discover their creative resource and to promote physical, mental and spiritual healing."

"There are some days you don't get past it," Aloni added, "(but sometimes) you are able to forget about yourself."

Aloni was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in April 2001.

Shortly after surgery and chemotherapy treatment, doctors found the cancer had spread to her liver.

More surgeries followed. She just got out of chemotherapy eight weeks ago, and she's proud to say she's in remission.

Aloni started dabbling in arts while going through a messy divorce in 2001, just before being diagnosed with cancer. She says she's learned things she "never, ever thought I could do."

At her apartment yesterday, she pulled out a stack of paintings stored under her bed.

She smiles when she sees an abstract -- pastel lines on poster board.

"That's my Jackson Pollock," she said before moving on to the next work of art.

The program's pamphlets and upcoming class calendars will be displayed at local hospitals and cancer clinics. For more information, contact the American Cancer Society of Hawaii at 595-7500.

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