Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Putting back the pieces

Original artwork by Trisha Smith.


When I was recovering from cancer, painting abstract watercolors became my healing outlet. It allowed me to process emotions, sparked self-discovery, and led me to a career in art therapy. 

How do I put back the pieces of my life? I feel torn apart after the side effects of chemo and radiation. I choose to trust in God and believe that the pieces of my physical, mental, and soulful state will once again become whole.” 


I’m a two-time survivor of non-Hodgkins large diffuse B cell lymphoma and grateful to be cancer-free for 12 years. After chemo my cancer returned after 13 months. I then had a stem cell transplant and experienced a very long period of isolation due to my weakened immune system.  


I found solace in reading the Psalms, prayerful walks, and practicing gratitude. Another practice that helped me get through this challenging time was painting abstract watercolors. The flow and blending of colors seemed to mirror my internal state. Painting expressed and displayed my emotions without words. Some of the paintings I tore apart into small pieces of color without a preconceived plan. As I gazed upon the scattered disjoined pieces, I decided to reassemble them into a new design. This process of tearing apart and recreating was the way I began to explore and determine my future. 


I decided to prepare an art portfolio and apply to graduate school to train as an art therapist, something I’d always wanted to pursue prior to my diagnosis. The acceptance to the program was the beginning of my personal renewal. Upon graduation I provided art therapy to pediatric palliative patients at Beth Israel Lahey Hospital in Plymouth, Massachusetts.   


Abstract watercolor painting was a powerful tool for my healing journey. In addition to being a creative outlet, it allowed me to express myself without words and process the trauma of cancer. The act of tearing apart and reassembling paintings became a metaphor for rebuilding my life after feeling torn apart by cancer treatment. It also led to self-discovery and a fulfilling career helping others through art. Through this artistic exploration, I found a way to heal, gain perspective, and ultimately turn my experience into a way to help others recovering from cancer. 










This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.