Genesee County Artists Touched by Cancer Display Artwork in Virtual Art Show

'Our Journey,' a one-of-a-kind virtual art exhibition, is free to view and goes live for the public on Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Author: Jasmine Brown

“The thing about art therapy is it gives you such self-confidence. Not a little, but a lot of self-confidence.”

Cancer is a journey, and many patients struggle to come to terms with the way their life has suddenly changed. Art can be one way patients are able to find the words, or the creativity to express their feelings and understand their emotions.

“Upon a cancer diagnosis, a person's life is forever changed. From that day on, it can be confusing, overwhelming and emotional for anyone touched by cancer,” said Erin Simonetti, ATR, registered art therapist at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint.  “Art therapy provides a therapeutic outlet for coping and self-expression for survivors and their family. They learn to utilize a non-verbal form of expression to externalize thoughts and experiences that are often difficult to express in words.”


Healing Through Art is an art therapy program at Karmanos in Flint. Cancer patients, along with caregivers and family members, can take advantage of this cancer support program, either individually or among a group of others touched by cancer.


“A lot of people come to the art sessions and they don’t think they can do art. Suddenly, they find out they can,” said Catherine Davids, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor and Healing Through Art program participant. “I knew I could do stuff, but I didn’t think I was an artist.

“We’ve learned so many styles of art and how to do them, and some of us are better at some styles than others, but everyone becomes an artist. Over time, you can see how being in a room or virtual session with other cancer patients makes the terror of cancer go away for a while.”

Participants like Catherine get to create marvelous works of art and share with one another in the group, explaining the purpose of the piece, the title, and their thoughts as they created the piece. Not only do they get to be creative, but they also get to showcase their work as artists.

Healing Through Art holds an art show every year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event did not take place in 2020, but in 2021 the program will hold a free virtual art show called Our Journey.


“This art show offers a small glimpse into the Healing Through Art program and the journey of survivors and their caregivers. It is not only a privilege for the artists to share their story, but also an honor for our community to witness it,” said Erin.

“Art offers a dialogue between the artist and its viewer.  One is telling a story and the other is interpreting it while bringing their own life experiences to the table.  This offers a unique, individualistic experience that varies upon each person.  As an art therapist, I hope that families touched by cancer can find a sense of familiarity in these shared experiences, knowing that they are not alone in their journey.”

In 2019, the participants got the chance to display their work at the Flint Institute of Arts.

“My work was displayed at the Flint Institute of Arts. That’s huge!” explained Catherine. “How many people can say that? Now, it’s virtual, so people across the country can see my work. It’s exciting!”

This year, Catherine has submitted two pieces for the virtual art show: I Enjoy Being a Girl and Astaire & Rogers, both mixed media collages.


“Cancer stripped so much away from me,” Catherine explained as she held back tears and talked about the inspiration that went into making I Enjoy Being a Girl. “It was so debilitating, and there’s no handbook that can tell you how to do it.


"I Enjoy Being a Girl," mixed media art by Catherine Davids, Healing Through Art participant

“I had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, a huge weight gain from the surgery and chemotherapy, and my hair fell out. I just wasn’t me anymore. I like being a girl, but I was so sick that I couldn’t be that girl anymore. When I started feeling better, I was trying to figure out who I was because I was so lost. Starting to do art helped me get back on that track to rebuilding myself. This collage is a celebration of my recovery, finding the art therapy program and all the other patients in it.”

"Astaire & Rogers" by Catherine Davids, Healing Through Art participant

Astaire & Rogers was not just created because she likes musicals that feature famed 1930s and 40s dance partners, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Musicals also were part of how she coped with cancer and treatment.


“I can’t describe how sick I was. I would at least get up every morning, take a shower and put on clean clothes after feeding the cats – I couldn’t feed myself, but I could feed the cats,” said Catherine. “Just to hear something I really loved kept me company. It helped me focus on the music and the dancing would lift my spirits. You really must work at keeping your spirits up, otherwise you fall into this abyss of despair. It’s hard to crawl out of there, so I couldn’t let myself get there.”

Now, after participating in the art therapy program for some time, Catherine says art is something that she has adopted into her life. It even takes the place of one favorite hobby, and it is all thanks to Healing Through Art.

“You do art at home and suddenly you notice that all of what you’re facing can be refocused on art and even buying the supplies. I’m a shoe person and I’ve traded buying shoes for buying art supplies.”

View Our Journey, a one-of-a-kind virtual art exhibition of local artists touched by cancer, beginning Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at 5 p.m. The virtual art show will be available at for viewers to click through at their own pace until Saturday, June 12.


To learn more about Healing Through Art at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, visit