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Avera Medical Minute: Arts and Healing Program brings welcome distraction to cancer patients

Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 7:30 AM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Receiving infusions to battle cancer can be life-changing. It can also take a lot of time. Ashley Holtgrewe understands the time commitment.

“Love the place, but in 2019, it was the month of December, I needed daily treatments Monday through Friday. Just to come up for radiation, and then besides that coming up here would be weekly treatments for chemotherapy,” said Holtgrewe.

The Arts and Healing program at Avera is a welcome distraction from the IV drip. Darwin Wolf is one of the artists involved with the program. Today, he’s showing Ashley and her husband Zach something new. He hands them modeling clay and shows them how to make petals that come together to make a rosebud.

“That’s just awesome to come here kind of get your mind away from having cancer. Yes you’re hooked up to a machine for a couple of hours, but it’s fun while being here,” said Holtgrewe.

Art Therapist Carol Rogers describes the many facets of the program. There are music therapists, concerts, patient arts and crafts, guided painting, and artists in residence, like Darwin.

“When you see patients engaging in the arts, they’re calmer they’re more relaxed and more engageable,” said Rogers. “Their blood pressure drops, their anxiety drops and their legs don’t shake.”

Darwin’s participation is made possible through the South Dakota Arts Council. The grant-funded program allows him to spend time with patients for part of his time and also demonstrating his art in progress.

If you walk through the main floor of the Avera Prairie Center, you may see him creating the South Dakota Sioux Code Talker monument. He’s creating the one-quarter scale model which will be life-sized at Capitol Lake in Pierre. Although he may look like he’s deep in concentration, he welcomes discussion.

“I really do want to talk to people. I don’t want to put them off just because I’m working they’re not concentrating that hard,” said Wolf.

The process is rewarding for both the patient and artist.

“I get to see the strength and courage of these patients. It really is inspiring,” said Wolf.

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