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Children with cancer coping with anxiety, trauma through art therapy

The ‘Tracy’s Kids’ program has been helping children with cancer and their families at Methodist Children’s Hospital since 2012.

SAN ANTONIO — Last year, Second Lady Karen Pence visited San Antonio to shine a light on a treatment helping children with cancer heal.

12-year-old Damaris Ovalle loves to paint. “It makes you feel...have fun, not worry about anything else,” she said.

Damaris has Acute Myeloid Leukemia, but is healing through help from her art therapist Courtney Martin at Methodist Children’s Hospital.

“We see kids as young as two. Pretty much, if they can hold a pencil or a hold a paintbrush, we’re doing artwork,” Martin said.

The requirements to become an art therapist are very similar to a mental health counselor.

“You have to have your Master’s degree in Art Therapy or Counseling, a related field. Then you need to have 2-3 years of post-graduate experience to become registered. You also have to be supervised by an art therapist and you have to sit for an exam to become board-certified,” Martin said.

Art therapists incorporate art as a therapeutic tool within the counseling sessions.

Tracy’s Kids is the non-profit organization that funds the art therapy program at Methodist Children’s Hospital. Children in the program use art therapy as a way to cope with the emotional stress and trauma of cancer and its treatment.

“You feel less anxious and all the mixed emotions going through you,” Damaris said.

The program also extends beyond the child.

“Siblings and parents are a part of the experience. It’s not really just for the patients, it’s for the patients and their families,” Martin said.

Recently, Damaris received a bone marrow transplant from her four-year-old brother. “I feel good every day,” she said.

Dr. Manny Esquilin, the pediatric oncologist at Methodist Children’s Hospital also said he is seeing the benefits in his patients.

“It’s a way to reduce anxiety without needing to use sedating medications and I’m all about natural techniques and ways to try to alleviate some of these symptoms without having to medicate the kids,” he said. "What’s been encouraging is to see kids almost look forward to coming into the hospital because they are going to have a chance to participate in art therapy and work with Courtney and do some of these projects."

Damaris is doing well and it’s almost time to go home and get back to school.

When asked if she was excited to go back to school for the seventh grade possibly in the fall, she smiled and jokingly said ‘no.’

With a beautiful smile, Damaris also shared her love for her family back in Eagle Pass.

“My family, I would like to say hi.” 

Anyone interested in art therapy can go to here to find a list of credentialed art therapists in their area. 

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