How an artist and stage 3 cancer survivor found a home for her mosaic — and a supportive community — at HealthAlliance Hospital
By Ali Jackson-Jolley
In late 2012, artist and writer Susan York, 51, of Shokan was sitting in her oncologist’s office in southern Maine when doctor delivered gut-wrenching news: York had a fast-growing, malignant tumor on her left ovary. “He showed me a tumor the size of a wine bottle on the left side of my scan. He said I had 8 to 10 days to have the surgery, or I would die,” York explains.
Terrified by her new illness, York asked every single person she knew to either pray for her or, if they didn’t believe in prayer, to picture her strong and healthy. “After my surgery, I physically felt all those prayers,” she remembers. That was the inspiration behind Susan York’s Gathering Goodness mosaic, a 5-foot high, 35-foot wide traveling hospital exhibit, which was installed in early 2017 at HealthAlliance Hospital: Mary’s Avenue Campus, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth).
After surgery and a course of chemotherapy, York emerged in 2013 as a stage 3 cancer survivor and began dreaming of a way to give back to those who had supported her. In 2016, she settled on her Gathering Goodness mosaic, a work intended to provide a positive and comforting experience to lift the spirits of patients, family members, caregivers and staff. Using the online crowd-funding app Kickstarter, she asked backers from around the globe to share images, essays and songs about peace, joy and love in their lives. The end result: a 108-piece traveling exhibit that needed a home. And that’s where Ellen Marshall, MS, LCSW-R, OSW-C, Director of the Oncology Support Program at HealthAlliance Hospital: Mary’s Avenue Campus, came in.
When York moved to Shokan, she knew HealthAlliance Hospital’s Oncology Support Program was the perfect community in which to share her Gathering Goodness mosaic. Joining forces with Marshall, York got the green light to have the mosaic installed at the Mary’s Avenue Campus in early 2017. “People have told me that after having a tough blood draw, they come out feeling better by looking at the Gathering Goodness mosaic — it makes a difference,” York says.
Marshall runs the Oncology Support Program out of the Herbert H. and Sofia P. Reuner Cancer Support House, located at 80 Mary’s Avenue (across the street from the HealthAlliance Hospital: Mary’s Avenue Campus). The comfortable facility is filled with cozy couches and a kitchen, so participants imagine they are in someone’s living room while they meet with social workers, either individually or in a group setting. “We have a kitchen where we offer healthy cooking classes, a beautiful sunroom, a lending library, and behind the house is the Linda Young Healing Garden, which offers a quiet sanctuary for people to enjoy nature,” Marshall says.
The Cancer Support House is open to anyone in the community dealing with the consequences of cancer, from people undergoing treatment to cancer survivors, as well as family members and caregivers to those with cancer. Specific programs include an extensive offering of wellness classes (such as yoga, t’ai chi, exercise classes geared toward people in cancer recovery, healthy living and cooking classes, and smoking- cessation programs).
Soon, programs like these will be part of medical villages being developed by WMCHealth at HealthAlliance Hospital: Broadway Campus and Bon Secours Community Hospital, also a member of WMCHealth. At these comprehensive-care centers, Hudson Valley residents will have access to the highest-quality preventive and advanced care resources, right in their own communities.
“We have found that there are people with cancer who may not necessarily want to connect through traditional support groups but would rather share and express themselves through the arts,” explains Marshall. The Oncology Support Program has offered a variety of creative-arts workshops throughout the years, including photography, pastel, collage and fiber art, as well as writing workshops.
Another major function of the program is providing support to patients admitted to the hospital, as well as access to a variety of support groups. For example, York has become an active member of the Linda Young Ovarian Cancer Support Program. “The group has been a godsend. I love the women I’ve met there and count several as friends. I’m blessed by each of them. I’ve also done several other workshops offered through the program.” The program also hosts numerous speaker events. To this end, York was this year’s inspiration speaker at the annual cancer survivor’s event. “We borrowed the theme of this year’s event from Susan’s “Gathering Goodness mosaic,” explains Marshall.
As York prepares to dismantle her exhibit at HealthAlliance, so it can be installed at another hospital, and begins to embark on new projects, one gets the feeling Gathering Goodness will always hold the most special place in her heart. “At the end of the day, the project is about living life to the fullest and savoring each moment, because we don’t know how many we have,” she says.
For more information about the Oncology Support Program at HealthAlliance Hospital, call 845.339.2071.
The Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is a 1,700-bed healthcare system headquartered in Valhalla, New York, with 10 hospitals on eight campuses spanning 6,200 square miles of the Hudson Valley. WMCHealth employs more than 13,000 people and has nearly 3,000 attending physicians. The Network has Level 1, Level 2 and Pediatric Trauma Centers, the region’s only acute care children’s hospital, an academic medical center, Primary and Comprehensive Stroke Centers, several community hospitals, dozens of specialized institutes and centers, skilled nursing, assisted living facilities, homecare services and one of the largest mental health systems in New York State. Today, WMCHealth is the pre-eminent provider of integrated healthcare in the Hudson Valley. For more information about WMCHealth, visit WMCHealth.org.