Painting a Picture of Strength While Fighting Leukemia – The Healing Power of Art

Painting a Picture of Strength While Fighting Leukemia   – The Healing Power of Art  

Josefina remembers the night when her life turned upside down. Ximena, her six-year-old, had felt unwell for a few weeks. After a doctor’s appointment and some blood work to determine the cause, she and her husband found themselves rushing their only daughter and youngest child to Texas Children's Hospital.

The tests showed markers for leukemia. In an instant, the family went from preparing for a Christmas vacation in Mexico to navigating a childhood cancer diagnosis.

Ximena, a bubbly little girl who loves Barbie, baby dolls, and coloring, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood in which too many white blood cells, called granulocytes, are produced in the bone marrow. Children with AML have a hard time fighting infections and often have poor appetite, nosebleeds, and swollen glands and can experience pain in the bones and joints. AML is the second most common form of childhood leukemia.

The first month was full of fear, Josefina shared. “Who wants to be in the hospital, especially a six-year-old?” she said.

Ximena immediately began treatment at Texas Children's Cancer and Hematology Center, undergoing five rounds of chemotherapy in total with bone marrow biopsies following each. Every round of chemo included a month-long hospital stay, with only 10 days or fewer between each admission. This meant very little time with her siblings and her father for both Ximena and her mom, who spent every night in the hospital at Ximena’s bedside. 

During those long hospital admissions, Ximena turned to art to help in her healing. Art therapy provided her the opportunity to express what a cancer diagnosis and corresponding treatment felt like when words were lacking. It also gave her the chance to connect with other children experiencing a similar diagnosis.

“She loves to paint and to color, so going to art therapy has helped her a lot,” her mom said. “She goes in and expresses herself; she makes friends and helps them through what they’re going through too.”

One of Ximena’s art pieces was selected for the Making a Mark Exhibition of Art by Children Touched by Cancer and Blood Disorders, presented by The Periwinkle Foundation.

Ximena’s artwork will be part of an exhibit at Texas Children's that features the work of young artists who have been affected by cancer and blood disorders.

Josefina shared that during their time at Texas Children's, Ximena, who is usually very shy, developed a deep bond with the team caring for her.  

“All of the doctors and nurses are wonderful here,” she said. As the end of chemotherapy neared and Ximena realized she would not be returning to the hospital as often, she told her mom she would miss her friends.

One of those care team members that Ximena became very close with was her oncologist, Dr. Lauren Scherer. She was there cheering for Ximena alongside her loved ones when she rang the bell to mark the end of her chemotherapy treatments.

“I know Ximena has had her entire family behind her throughout her diagnosis and treatment. I see her mom at her bedside and at appointments all the time, but seeing firsthand everyone who loves and supports her there as she reached this milestone was amazing,” said Dr. Scherer. “She is such a bright and vibrant person who has impacted me a lot as a physician, and it was wonderful to see her celebrated.”

Josefina is excited for a return to normal - or as close to normal as possible - and she is looking forward to having all her children together under one roof now that this stage of treatment is over. While it has been a difficult journey for their family since last December, the resiliency Ximena has shown to her loved ones has given them strength, too.

“She has proven to us how strong she is.” Josefina said.

 

Source: Texas Children's Hospital

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