settling in

Many of you will know that the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre  recently moved to the purpose built Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Grattan Street, Melbourne.   This was a greatly anticipated move, not least because the old premises were well worn, but because this new building brought together expertise, resources and research from a range of hospitals and research centres, as well as patients previously receiving treatment from the old Peter Mac and other hospitals into one purpose-built cancer care and research centre.


Yet in all this wonder and excitement,  the move also was a time of loss for some.   People who have had long a relationship with the old hospital – perhaps it was where a family member or friend died, or was cured – felt the wrench.  Their connection to place is deep.   Similarly, those moving from other hospitals to Peter Mac feel a wrench, even when appreciating the benefits of the change.  Conversations  with patients and staff deepens my understanding of the criticality of relationships between people and place, and between place and memory.

In these early stages many patients feel disoriented by the new building: trying to find their way around, learning where their treatment or consultation will happen, and importantly, where to get coffee, caused some anxiety.  The hospital’s ultra modern electronic lifts and electronic queuing system are so totally at odds with the experience of the old hospital that many patients needed some guidance from the teams of volunteers to orient themselves into this place.


I returned to the Specialist Clinics a week or so after the move to continue the Artz’n’health program with patients and carers.  The Specialist Clinics are incredibly busy places: sometimes up to 500 patients are seen there in one day.  Waits can be long.  New and old patients/carers can feel overwhelmed by a cancer hospital, and at that early stage, this bright new building still feels very white and a bit clinical for some.  The art program, along with the many other services offered there,  provides some softening and re-focussing from what is a very stressful situation to something gentle and non-clinical.

Patients and carers dip into the day’s project.   As it is never certain how long the wait,  projects that lend themselves to this uncertainty, such as making pages for book, or adding to a long scroll of a painting or drawing, are offered.  The time spent away from the waiting, the anxiety, and street and within the creative space is appreciated with gratitude.

Considered themes, such as this one using a limited palette of colours and organic shapes breaks down some of the barriers to participating as it is easy  to jump in and create without worrying of what to do.


Sometimes extraordinary and unexpected transformations happen through art… such as  nurturing a long-suppressed yearning to create; experiencing the joy and pleasure of creating led one parent to acknowledge the need her daughter has to pursue a creative life; or feeling a restfulness that allows for some real respite from the anxiety surrounding cancer.  People have come back to give me work they created at home after spending time at the art table.


art making can evoke a deep concentration on something enjoyable and purposeful … giving a patient time to rest.




Post script : The program was closed without warning or discussion by the Director of Wellbeing in September 2016.  

3 thoughts on “settling in

    • Thank you Paula – you will be pleased to know that we have been doing quite a bit of nature-inspired art … looking at seed pods, shells, earthy colours, and organic shapes. I am planning on doing some nature-journalling with patients/carers in the wellbeing garden when it warms up – inspired by your lovely little book.

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