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Creatively Combating Cancer

ToniAnn Eisman head shot

Coming from generations of artists, ToniAnn Eisman knew early on that she wanted to integrate her love for the arts into a career, but was hesitant to pursue a career that was strictly within the fine arts.

After high school she enrolled at Rutgers University, and like many freshman, still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do – but knew she wanted to make a difference with her art.  As her studies went on she became more certain of her path and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus in painting and a second major in psychology, and a minor in art history in 2017. After graduating from Rutgers, ToniAnn attended Drexel University where she received her Master's in Art Therapy – a program that combined her interests in the arts and desire to apply that in a clinical background. While at Drexel a field director of clinical placements at Drexel recommended an internship at the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) where she was able to practice art therapy in a medical setting – she immediately fell in love with the program and the impact her work had on patients.  

During her internship ToniAnn engaged patients in artistic expression to encourage an ongoing awareness of personal wellness, while providing emotional and psychological support. She would tailor sessions to the individual needs of the patient and their caretakers – whether it was for a patient who had 30 minutes between appointments or for their families in the waiting rooms for hours. Patients, caregivers and family members could choose to cultivate an ongoing project with a particular final product in mind, or use the process of working with the different materials on different days to communicate their emotional and psychological experiences.

“Some people wanted ideas and inspiration, but others just used me as a conduit for getting supplies – and I love being both of those things, I just wanted to be there for them in whatever capacity they need,” ToniAnn shares.

ToniAnn Eisman in graduation gown

ToniAnn knows all too well that sometimes words are not enough, and art therapy can allow patients and caregivers the opportunity to creatively deal with the impact of a cancer diagnosis. By using art materials for self-expression and reflection, it can help patients address issues related to illness, treatment and emotional well-being.

Art therapy can also help patients escape the anxiety of a cancer diagnosis: “I had several patients tell me that during my visits with them. They were able to put their thoughts aside regarding their diagnosis and simply enjoy the creative process. That even for a brief moment, I helped them forget about why they were there," says ToniAnn.

She believes that the creative process involved in the making of art is healing and life-enhancing. Often, the artwork becomes the visual representation of a patient, caregiver or family member's experiences.

While ToniAnn’s internship with the ACC integrative oncology program has ended, she reflects that she gained more from her experience with the patients she worked with than she could ever have imagined.

“I learned how to work with patients independently as a clinician, how much there is to consider when you are working with cancer patients, and most importantly I learned how impactful and rewarding my job can be,” ToniAnn says.

Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center offers many integrative oncology services to supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy.  The Abramson Cancer Center’s wide range of integrative oncology options are designed to help you minimize or reduce side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, promote your healing and recovery, and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Any patient — regardless of age or diagnosis — can benefit from the positive aspects of artistic expression, as well as the many other integrative oncology services we offer. These include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Guided Meditation and a Mindfulness Program
  • Massage and Shiatsu Therapy
  • Reiki Therapy
  • Yoga

About this Blog

The Penn Medicine Giving blog highlights and promotes philanthropic contributions to Penn Medicine and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

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