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6/16/09: Grateful cancer patient donates artwork in honor of 'healing hands'

In the span of six hours, Marieke Kreps transformed anguish into artwork. With tissue paper, Kreps, an interior designer, created a collage depicting hands that heal and love that, in partnership with the science of medicine, can save.

Completed at the end of her radiation treatment last fall, the artwork now hangs in the waiting room of Emerson Hospital’s Bethke Cancer Center, where patients sit before undergoing radiation. “I wanted other patients to know that it’s ok and to have a visualization of love and tenderness,” she said.

The journey
Kreps arrived at Emerson with a heavy heart. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42 and died following a 10-year battle with the disease. “Dr. Robin Schoenthaler was the most positive doctor I had throughout my entire treatment,” she said. “She told me I had an incredibly low likelihood of recurrence. Then she told me again and again until I took it to heart. Because of her encouragement and my faith, I came through my treatment with a positive attitude.”

Trying to stave off the genetic predisposition of her family history of the disease, Kreps lived as healthy and active a lifestyle as possible. However, last July, she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a biopsy at Newton-Wellesley Hospital determined that she was fighting stage I. Because there was no lymph node involvement in her cancer, Kreps would not require chemotherapy. Her surgeon at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recommended that she consider radiation treatment at Emerson Hospital to avoid long trips into the Longwood medical area. Kreps received radiation five days a week for six weeks.

“From the first moment I arrived, there was such warmth here,” she said. “It is a very comforting place to come. The staff members are amazing. The waiting room is homey with books and a jigsaw puzzle that every patient helps complete with each visit. That is great psychologically because we are a team dancing with the same disease.”

At her first radiation appointment, staff asked Kreps to list her favorite colors. As she exited her appointment, they presented her with an Auxiliary-made comfort quilt. “It touched my heart to know that someone was thinking of me as I was going through this,” she said.

The inspiration
Throughout the subsequent weeks of her treatment, Kreps relied on visualization to endure radiation. Kreps, a mother and grandmother, experienced the progression of the disease in colors. “At the beginning, when you receive your diagnosis, things are dark,” she said. “You’ve been thrown for a loop.” Slowly, she moved from healing to hope, an emotional reawakening that is depicted in her collage as the colors blend from purple into yellow. In conceptualizing her artwork, Kreps also drew on the many healing hands that cared for her as she navigated her cancer diagnosis. “I saw the love, care, and tenderness of the hands in the unit, and I wanted to illustrate their healing touch. I also wanted the staff to know how much I appreciated their skill as they took care of me.”

For those who cared for Kreps, the artwork is a reminder of the reason why they chose to practice medicine. "We're so grateful to patients like Marieke who can make visible the love and care we put into creating a healing and patient-centered environment," said Robin Schoenthaler, MD, a radiation oncologist at the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology at Emerson Hospital.

Today, Kreps’ battle with the disease has affected how she overcomes frustration and challenges. She meditates and participates in yoga and Pilates, all in an effort to slow her mind down. “I live in the now,” she said. “I live today one day at a time. The best we can do is to try to make the world a better place and to bless everyone we meet, because that is what will last.”