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Art, Storytelling Event showcases power of sharing health care experiences

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

For the past year and a half, I have been focused on a special project that married my passion for working with volunteers and my love for art and storytelling. The project came to fruition with an Art and Storytelling Event: Journeys in Health Care held on Friday, January 25th.

At Michigan Medicine, I coordinate volunteers who utilize their health care journeys to help improve the patient experience for everyone. They serve on committees and projects, share their stories at events and retreats, and mentor other patients and caregivers in 27 departments. It is humbling working with volunteers who have been through so much and simply want to give back.

We wanted to create a community-building event that would provide a space where volunteers and staff could meet, mingle, and be inspired. We also wanted to give our volunteers, patients and staff an opportunity to share their health care journey through the lens of artwork and storytelling.

I worked with an incredible planning team: Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Kuemin, Kathi Talley from Gift of Arts, Elizabeth Walker from Pathology, Medical Librarian Patricia Anderson and Patient Advisors Gwynneth VanLaven and Alex Fox. I cannot thank them enough for the time, expertise and heart they gave to this project!

Elizabeth is also co-founder/co-director of the non-profit organization, The ART of Infertility. She said, “What we’re seeing is that artwork as a form of creative-expression is helping to raise awareness and bridge gaps between providers and patients, as well as creating an outlet, a tangible expression, of their experiences. The OPE art and storytelling event helped create a platform for patients to raise awareness as well as being a method of communication through self-expression.”

This exhibit will be on display at the North Campus Research Center, Lobby 10 for the next three months and then will be moved for a second show at the new Pathology Department Art Gallery.

Below are photographs of the 17 artists’ work as well as a synapsis of their artist statements. During the art reception, I had many people comment on how powerful it was to read what had inspired each piece!

Leah Cunningham


(This was my 15-year-old daughter’s first art show!)

A lot of people I know deal with anxiety, including me at times. I think depression and anxiety are a very common issue with teenagers these days, as it seems to consume a multitude of my friends. It really makes me sad and sometimes it engulfs me.

In this picture, I wanted to show how someone’s depression and anxiety might impact them.

Ken Estell


This is the piece I was working on when my brother acknowledged that he had been diagnosed with cancer in 2016. As adults, we had grown apart, and prior to his illness we hadn’t seen much of each other. While I had heard through other family members that something was going on with his health, it took some time for him share the news with me.

However, following his diagnosis, we seemed to pick up where we had left off years ago. He was also an artist, and art had been a big part of our childhood. We talked to each other about our work, shopped for art supplies together, exchanged ideas, and encouraged each other. I believe that through art, not his illness, I was able to share in his journey; this piece was the bridge that reconnected us.

Kevin L. Johnson


From March-November 2014, I received seven chemo infusions at Michigan Medicine to treat Lymphoma. I tried to convey two themes. First, that chemo created a battle inside you by attacking the cancer. You suffer but have hope the outcome of the battle was your survival.

Second, the pictures portrayed the metaphor of the chemo as the passing of the seasons: late autumn was my vitality waning; post-infusion was the leaves falling like ashes; winter followed but my defiance and good medical care prevailed; Spring arrived which was followed by a glorious healthy summer with its vibrant colors.

Kate Lebowsky

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

I have a passion for creating Huggable Art, from blankets to toys, creating gifts that will bring joy to others. This doll is inspired by all the women who work hard toward their own passion in health care. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female Medical Doctor in the United States (1849), and founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (1857).

Michele Mitchell


In 2006, I was diagnosed with breast cancer while my husband was dying. After removing him from life support, I began my own battle at Michigan Medicine - surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and years of adjunctive therapy. Cancer has taught me to be "in the moment” and to appreciate relationships and the beauty that surrounds me. "Renewal" on the shores of Lake Michigan illustrates that feeling.

This painting is also for my step-daughter who lost her battle to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2013. My goal is to appreciate, be "in the moment" and enjoy the beauty that surrounds me.

Emily Moore

Strong Heart

I painted this with inspiration from my congenital heart defect, pulmonary atresia (HRHS). Having a heart condition you’re born with brings another level of compassion & courage in your life that’s hard to explain in words. Here I show “half the heart, double the courage” - but I believe courage could be replaced with any positive word: fight, compassion, inspiration - you name it! Growing up with a heart condition gives you a different perspective on life and makes you feel twice as much.

Kit Morehead

Blue Bunny

At the end of my mother's journey with Alzheimer's there were times of tears, struggles and pain. She no longer knew us and the world frightened her. I bought Blue Bunny for her to keep her whimsical company. We all need hugs when we are hurting and I am grateful to blue bunny that he was there for my mother.

Scott Newport


The large twisted piece of red oak was imprisoned between two, towering storage cages in a vintage welding shop. After asking the owner about the chunk he stated, “Yea, I forgot about that, you can have it if you want. It’s been there for over twenty years collecting dust.” The bench is a reminder for me of how children, like my disabled son, were sent to institutions, back in the day, and often forgotten too.

Julie Piazza

The Journey is the Destination

The strength of a tree was formed from planted seeds, river's edge and has grown with variation...always changing, always growing...that's what I strive for on this journey of life and healing experiences.

Elle Preston

Touching the Hem’s Weakness

Touching the Hem’s Weakness is a piece that reflects on my journey prior to my diagnosis of Chiari Malformation Type 1 with Syringomyleia (hence the zipper) in 2010. It reflects the connection (and sometimes disconnection) that I had to art, medicine and faith from years of illness, pain and misdiagnosis and my full circle journey after surgery/treatment to my “new normal."

Merideth Sauvé

Find your peace

I avoided going to the doctor’s office most of my adult life because it made me anxious. Then, at an appointment last year, I was told I might need surgery. I worried about the rehabilitation, time off of work, and the scar it would leave. Even though it was difficult, I slowly began to confide in others and found that I had a support network.

When I finally went to the consult, I was told that there was an irregularity but not enough to need surgery. I made this portrait as a reminder for whenever I see the doctor that, no matter what happens, I can be at peace; I am not alone.

Laura Trebesh


As a photographer both in and outside of Kellogg Eye Center, I am lucky enough to capture fine details in a person’s life. Outside of work, I am invited into people’s homes to capture moments or milestones such as this photograph. This baby is only a few days old and is still covered in the newborn peach fuzz called lanugo. When I photographed this baby, I was in such awe of his tiny features- his mini finger nails, his wrinkly feet, his rosy lips and my favorite, his lanugo. I think of this photograph often and hope that the research we are doing at Kellogg can help restore even just a little bit of vision, enough to perhaps be able to see fine details that they may be missing in their daily lives.

Gwynneth VanLaven

Through art I use my own journey to connect to others’ experiences with illness, with treatment, and with stigma. Further beyond just pain, suffering and illness, I challenged myself to imagine and explore the “abled/well” side.

I have noticed how idealized and surreal images of wellness give a very narrow view of the possible faces of health. I talked with my care team about these aims and they modeled a pose (I call “The Wellness Pose”) for my camera. It is these conversations that I am seeking as a patient, as an artist/storyteller, and as a patient advocate.

Elizabeth Walker

Barriers to Care

In an attempt to cope with the stress from infertility (found in studies to be equal to that from cancer, heart disease, and HIV) I began creating art. This piece represents the barriers to access to care I have faced during the 119 months I’ve been living with infertility.

In 2014, I founded a national arts organization, The ART of Infertility. We curate innovative and emotionally provoking art exhibits to portray the realities, pains, and joys of living with IF. Through art, we break the silence around reproductive grief and push back against common misconceptions.

Jennifer Wolf

Back in the Saddle

My husband is an oncology patient at UM Hospital. I am impressed by how many people are involved in his care, employing their skills through their hands to try to reverse the course of this disease.

Part way through his treatments, I started taking pictures of the hands of all the people he came in contact with during his treatment process. For us, this painting reminds us of the contributions made by each of those hands and it lifts our spirits.

Next week, I will feature the participants in the storytelling portion of the event. Please visit my blog to listen to some wonderful storytelling!

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