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Art of healing

Art exhibit tells story of
Brunner’s battle, survival of bone cancer

After a year of treatment,
she appears to be cancer free

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (March 2009) – Upon being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare childhood bone cancer, Jennifer Brunner said she felt a barrage of emotions. Past her childhood at age 23, her odds of being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma was roughly one in 333,000 people.

Jennifer Brunner Photo ... Jennifer Brunner Art

Photos provided

Bone cancer patient Jennifer Brunner used art therapy as a
healing method, first with photography and then by transferring
the image through the use of pastels, crayons and paints.

“Having an experience like this certainly changes your perspective on things,” said Brunner, who was born in Tulsa, Okla., and grew up near Houston. Brunner had earned a bachelor’s degree in English and been pursing a second degree in French at Indiana University Southeast before her diagnosis.
She had been misdiagnosed by doctors for several months and was beginning to believe it was all in her head. She felt relieved to finally find an answer, but at the same time, “I felt angry. I had suffered for several months due to misdiagnosis. I was only 23, and I had always taken care of myself. I was a nice person. It didn’t make any sense.”
Brunner was in treatment for about a year at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville. Art therapists worked with her during her treatment to provide emotional healing through creative expression.
Through art therapy, Brunner was able to cope with her illness. “It was healing to be able to tell my story and put it in a way that people can understand.”
Just merely telling someone she wore a chest tube or central line for a year would not be as revealing to them as seeing a picture of it, “then they would understand,” she said.
Brunner’s mother, Julie Brunner, took many photographs for her daughter, who then used a variety of medium to create an accompanying image from the photograph of herself. “All different types of art tools were used,” said Julie, such as pastels, paints, pencils and crayons.
Brunner’s art exhibit is titled, “A Bone Fractured Fairytale: My Year Lost in Cancer Land.” It will be on display March 6 through May 31 at Fb3 Development, 624 E. Market St., Louisville. Gallery visitors can meet Brunner during the First Friday Trolley Hop on Friday, March 6.
Brunner was interested in photography before becoming ill. While at Kosair, she asked anyone with a camera to snap pictures of anything they found striking or interesting. “Later, I sorted through the pictures and found the most compelling ones.” These consisted of Brunner receiving radiation, physician examinations and the day she shaved her head.
Art therapy was one non-medicated method of getting relief from an extremely stressful situation, said Julie Brunner. “It made life better able to deal with,” and provided Brunner with a calmness she desperately needed.
“I think Jennifer’s show is unique in that it captures such a range of human emotions,” said Emily R. Johnson, MA, LPCA, Expressive Art Therapist with Norton Cancer Institute. Objectives of doing art therapy with patients and their families can range from expressing emotions, building self-esteem, strengthening relationships, regaining control, distraction from pain or lengthy stays to sharing their story and perspective with others, said Johnson.
Brunner is able to joke about her stay at Kosair as the only adult in a pediatric ward by saying that she felt like “the geriatric patient in the unit and that I belonged in a nursing home.”
Even through her pain, she was able to see the lighter side of things when nurses would make their rounds with coloring books. Aware that she could have been the age of the parents of some of the children, she said she felt “like the big sister.”
Brunner said the experience began as a scrap-booking idea, but the result became something she wanted to share on a large scale with others. “I imagine that when people experience her photos, art pieces and writing they will laugh, cry, sigh, cringe, nod, smile and everything in between,” Johnson said.
Brunner is now on a three-month schedule for scans and appears to be cancer free. She received such good care at Kosair that she has decided to pursue a degree in nursing.

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