By Suzanne Schmidt
ZEPHYRHILLS — At an art studio in Zephyrhills, people gather to learn more than how to draw and paint, they gather to heal.
Cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers learn from volunteer Mary Sears in the weekly Art Therapy program provided through The Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring.
“They come here and a lot of times they are withdrawn and timid,” Sears said. “That only lasts a short period of time. Everyone here is very warm and welcoming. There is no dissension here. Everyone shares their problems and their joys. We laugh together and cry together. They are my extended family.”
Sears has been teaching the art classes for five years at The Healing Arts Studio, 38135 Market Square. She said the payment she receives is worth more than any amount of money she could get.
“When I started teaching, a lady came to paint in a class,” Sears said. “When I was telling them time is up, she said that couldn’t be. She told me for two hours she had forgot about her cancer. That is my pay. I love to volunteer here.”
Ann Moyer, of Zephyrhills, started taking lessons through the program when she was taking care of her mother who had pancreatic cancer.
“Mary taught me how to do different mediums,” Moyer said. “I learned different techniques and what to do after you finish a painting like how to mat, frame and finalize with a sealer. I never thought I could draw until she taught me shapes and dimension.”
The positive attitude Sears brings to the class inspires students like Moyer.
“She made me more positive,” Moyer said. “Instead of saying I can’t do it, now I know I can.”
Sears and her students will display their work at a sidewalk art show from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 3 at the clinic. The show will include work from all mediums including pen and ink, acrylic, graphite, watercolor, pastel and oil.
“We mainly want everyone to come and see what we do,” Sears said. “It is such a boost for them to get to show off their work. In life there are so many things you can’t control, like cancer. When you have that brush in your hand, you can forget for a while about the chemo, the surgeries and losing your hair.”
Jack Taylor, of Zephyrhills, has been painting with the program since he was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer about three years ago.
“I find it to be relaxing to just get in here and forget about anything else,” Taylor said. “I like painting horses because I used to ride them. It reminds me of when I lived on a farm when I was a kid.”
Zephyrhills resident Mary Campbell is a breast cancer survivor with one more year of medication to go. She said she loves to come and paint on Wednesdays because she gets to socialize with Taylor and everyone else in the class.
“I don’t feel alone,” Campbell said. “It is good to be with people who have the same problem as you do. I feel like everybody here is all the same. You become so close to so many of them, you don’t want to stay home.”
Many of the artists never really knew they could paint before coming to Sears’ class, like Ellen Reid of Zephyrhills. Reid was a caretaker to her husband, Thomas, until he passed away last October.
“Mary just said you can do it, so I tried,” Reid said. “It is very calming. It can take me to a place I used to be. When I start to feel depressed, I just pull out my artwork and it makes me feel better. I have learned to just live in the moment.”
The class is so helpful that Paulette Richardson said she wishes she had something like this when she was diagnosed and treated for kidney cancer eight years ago.
“My quality of life would have been better because I wouldn’t have been sitting around thinking about it,” Richardson said. “This is the only social thing I do. We get to know each other, we are like a big family. We support each other and it means a lot.”
For information, visit www.floridamedicalclinic.com or call (813) 783-9932.