Tucked away down a small hall on the 11th floor of the QEII’s Victoria Building is the Sunshine Room — a space of relaxation, healing and common ground for patients undergoing cancer treatment.
The Sunshine Room opened in June 2003, thanks in part to A. Wallace Murray. Before he died of cancer, he made a $25,000 donation to the QEII Foundation to create a support room for people undergoing cancer treatments. Since then, the Sunshine Room has been continuously evolving and currently includes Reiki, therapeutic touch, healing touch, reflexology and massage therapies alongside a hairdressing studio that offers free wigs and an extensive hat collection created by volunteers. Since September 2016, another free program has become available — art group.
“To do art you need to get out of your head and be present in the moment. It takes all of your focus and concentration and you then get the reward of something that came from within you expressed in a physical way,” says Mike McCarthy, Sunshine Room art program instructor.
Mike is a NSCAD graduate who has been volunteering at the Sunshine Room as a Reiki therapist since 2012. After a conversation with the coordinators he realized there was something else very valuable he could contribute.
In this weekly program, participants are connected by their cancer journey but work individually towards artistic goals.
Elaine Landry, a volunteer Reiki therapist at the Sunshine Room, has been living with cancer since age 28. She takes advantage of the therapies herself and since June of last year has been participating in the art program.
“I am so happy. The Sunshine Room and art program have made such a huge difference in my life,” says Elaine.
“I never have to explain myself here. Here, I am a free spirit.”
Elaine has completed numerous paintings. One of her favourites, Alice Rose and the Magnolia Tree — a painting of her granddaughter, is displayed in her home.
“I love Victorian style,” says Elaine. “This is my sixth painting. It came very easy to me.”
Mike and Elaine recall a class where an inpatient brought his kids to the art program.
“That was a special class for sure,” says Mike. “When you’re doing something, an effort, a constructive activity together, you’re making something and making something of yourself together. That is true quality time.”
The art program has no creative boundaries — the two recall it can burst into sing-alongs regularly.
“The staff and patients on the floor get a kick out of it and some people wander in to see what all the fuss is about,” says Elaine.
“I am so happy. The Sunshine Room and art program have made such a huge difference in my life.”
The number of participants in art program varies weekly. Mike says he’s never had less than three or four and has had up to eight.
“Most of the participants have never even painted before. It takes a lot of courage just to show up and it’s truly amazing the quality of the art,” says Mike.
As he sifts through paintings, big and small, complex and simple, on what he calls ‘the art cart,’ the progression of paintings is visible.
“Some people abandon paintings they don’t like and start something new, some take months on one painting and others might wait a while and come back to one,” he says.
A hefty stack of landscape and nature photos collected by Mike sit in a closet near the art cart. These photos are used as inspiration for those who come with hands in pockets.
“The art program, similar to the Sunshine Room's other services, is an extension for people who want to connect a little bit further. In this case, by using art as a creative outlet,” says Jillian Roy, the Sunshine Room’s volunteer coordinator.
“Mike really goes above and beyond to help everyone, even if they want to express themselves artistically in a way other than painting.”