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A person's hand is drawing intricate line drawings on a piece of paper
Wellwood volunteer Miriam Oda teaches an art class, virtually, to people impacted by cancer.
September 2, 2020

Wellwood virtual programs help clients stay connected

As a youngster, Miriam Oda loved to draw. But life got busier over time and eventually her favourite childhood pastime fell by the wayside.

Then, 10 years ago, the retired social worker from Stoney Creek once again took up drawing after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She was treated at Hamilton Health Sciences’ Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC), and while recovering, she connected with Wellwood, a Hamilton-based cancer support centre serving the region.

Wellwood provides supportive programming for anyone living with cancer or caring for someone with a diagnosis. Wellwood programs included drawing, so Oda signed up for a class.

Finding a safe space

The lessons rekindled Oda’s passion for art and gave her a safe space to connect with other cancer patients. Oda stayed with Wellwood over the years and now volunteers teaching a drawing class there. She specializes in teaching intricate, fine-line ink pattern drawings and her class is among Wellwood’s most popular.

Oda taught in-person at Wellwood until the centre temporarily closed in mid-March due to COVID-19. Shortly after, she began offering classes online using Zoom video conferencing.

Pivoting to virtual programming

Prior to COVID, Wellwood programming took place at the centre’s Sanatorium Road location and JHCC satellite office. Courses included gentle exercise, meditation, arts and children’s programming as well as support groups and peer mentoring. There were plans to add online programming for clients who lived too far away to drive in, but that hadn’t happened yet.

The arrival of the pandemic accelerated plans for virtual options. Within two weeks of closing its doors, Wellwood began piloting three online, real-time programs using Zoom – a men’s night, a gentle exercise program and a card-making craft session. Other virtual programs, including Oda’s pattern drawing class, soon followed.

Wellwood now runs 10 free, virtual programs using Zoom. With no caps on numbers and no travel time involved, these programs are more popular than ever.

“Our online programs help people feel less isolated,” said Norma Frankoff, Wellwood’s program director. “While many people feel alone due to the pandemic, this can be especially true for people affected by cancer because their immune system may be compromised so they have to limit contact.”

Sense of community

“Participants are with people who can relate.”

Programs offer a sense of community, since everyone taking part has been affected by cancer.

“If someone misses a few classes, we totally understand,” said Frankoff. “If someone has lost their hair, nobody blinks an eye. Participants are with people who can relate.”

Twenty participants enrolled in Oda’s virtual class from across the region. She leads them using an iPad to show her hands as she draws. Frankoff hosts the sessions, monitoring type-written comments from participants on Zoom and sharing them with Oda to answer.

“People impacted by cancer love drawing because it’s a calming, focused experience,” said Oda. “Creating art also gives people a sense of control. I didn’t feel any control when I was diagnosed with cancer. It just hit me.”

Participants in Oda’s class include Dorothy Pike of Hamilton, a breast cancer survivor and former JHCC patient.

“I love being creative,” said Pike, who enjoys Wellwood’s online community and uses the pattern drawing classes to create birthday cards for friends and family. “I’m not a natural-born artist at all but I just love to do it.”

Moving forward

“There’s no limit to who we can reach.”

Wellwood will continue offering virtual classes once the doors open again. Frankoff envisions a hybrid of programming, with both in-person and online offerings.

Wellwood already has its webcasting lectures online including Cancer 101: “How Treatment Plans are Formed” and “The Patient’s Role in Decision Making.”

“No matter what happens in the future, those lectures will happen totally online because there’s no limit to who we can reach,” said Frankoff.

For more information on Wellwood or to register for online programs, visit www.wellwood.ca