May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month
The Arts in Medicine campaign spotlights a young adult cancer survivor who relied on the arts to cope during her battle with cancer.
When Khandice Long was treated at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital for osteosarcoma, she was healed in more ways than one. Dealing with a difficult medical illness and the stressors that accompany it, Khandice used visual art, music and writing as a way to cope and rebuild.
Khandice met her art therapist, Amy Bucciarelli, MS ATR-BC, LMHC, through the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program (AIM), which utilizes the arts to transform the hospital experience for patients and families. Over time, Khandice’s collection of art turned into a published book of poems, titled “Just a Journey,” which has become a featured story in AIM’s May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month campaign.
Throughout the month of May, AIM has joined more than 1,100 communities across the country to celebrate the positive impacts of mental health services on children, teens and young adults, like Khandice.
“The artworks I did while I was in the hospital were a healing experience,” the 20 year-old cancer survivor said. “I liked being consumed by what I was doing at the moment instead of thinking about my circumstances.”
During a prolonged hospitalization, patients and caregivers can face a number of emotional burdens, such as increased stress levels, depression, anxiety and chronic tension. Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses creative mediums in private and group settings to reduce negative symptoms and enhance wellbeing.
Khandice used her art therapy sessions to help her manage pain related to the side effects of her chemotherapy and explore the thoughts and feelings surrounding her diagnosis and treatment. These explorations in art therapy led Khandice to establish clear artistic goals, which included writing a book about cancer and being involved in music production. Bucciarelli collaborated with writer in residence, Dylan Klempner, and musician in residence, Ricky Kendall, to help Khandice reach these goals and find a sense of accomplishment within the hospital experience.
To showcase the product of Khandice’s work and to inspire other patients, AIM partnered with Liquid Creative Studio to publish her book and host an art exhibit in the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital throughout the month of May. Her gallery show and book of poems were launched with a book signing and live performance of one of her original songs – written while she was being treated for cancer.
Khandice also has recently met with Gov. Rick Scott, recorded her song at Medusa Studios and performed alongside renowned operatic soprano Barbara Padilla during her concert hosted by the Climb for Cancer Foundation. She said she wants people to be inspired by the story of her journey and to feel hopeful as they continue theirs.
“It was an honor to walk this journey with Khandice,” Bucciarelli said. “She approached every step with optimism and used the arts to transform a difficult experience into creative works that offer meaning and hope to us all.”