Patient Stories Inspire Art to Spread Hope

By: Kate Irwin

A blend of health care, storytelling and artwork was on display this month at a virtual gallery showcasing the collaboration between My PaTH Story Booth and the Art Program in the Division of Communication and the Arts at the University of Pittsburgh Bradford.

Story Booth is an initiative that collects audio stories from both patients and caregivers describing their personal experiences with illness. The stories are then shared with researchers, and (if storytellers are interested) with the public to improve patient-centered care – and potentially create opportunities for storytellers to help steer health research.

“Stories can empower patients, instill hope and help people find a voice in the health care system,” said Dr. Kathleen McTigue, associate professor in Pitt’s School of Medicine. “Our team is committed to amplifying the voices of those who have shared their stories.”

Within the past year, about 90 stories from a collection of more than 800 were turned into art pieces by students at Pitt Bradford. After selecting a story, the artist expressed the themes in their work.

Artwork in the gallery includes abstract clay sculptures, soft watercolor paintings and photographs. Some artists combined mediums within their pieces to convey the complexities of the patients’ stories.

Among the audience viewing the gallery were some of the storytellers—patients who shared their stories of illness. They were able to see how the artists translated their battles into art.

“Seeing [my story] brought to life through someone else’s eyes was fascinating,” said one storyteller, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. “Seeing that interpretation and feeling the emotion that came from the art was a very moving experience.”

Another storyteller, a breast cancer survivor, described how looking at the art inspired by her quote, “I looked forward to my doctors’ appointments,” reflected her own triumph.

“I had late-stage cancer and every treatment known to man, but I tried to have a positive attitude,” she said. “I was told the cancer would likely return within five years, and I’m happy to report that I’m 10 years out without a reoccurrence.”

“Some people may think I have an ugly scar, but I exist 10 years later looking and feeling beautiful every day,” she continued. “I am so appreciative of this art.”

The art pieces and stories displayed can be viewed here.