Art therapy rockin’ the bone marrow transplant unit

As a form of art therapy bone marrow transplant patients are contributing to an inspirational rock garden.

The message is simple: “I am strong.” It stands out boldly on a bright orange background. Olivia Johnson holds the rock flashing the same bright orange painted on her nails.

Orange represents leukemia awareness. Johnson, 43, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Oct. 4, 2017. AML is a cancer that starts in the bone marrow and moves into the blood and sometimes other parts of the body – liver, spleen and central nervous system.

“I had a high fever had been at work all day. The girls said I didn’t look well. I didn’t want to go to a clinic because you have to wait two hours. I put up a fight,” said Johnson, who works for IU Health Bloomington.

She didn’t know it then but the fight had just begun.

“I went in and a nurse practitioner was working. I told him I thought I had strep. He ran tests for strep and mono and ordered a blood draw. In 45 minutes he called and told me that I have leukemia. I thank God every day that he was on call that weekend,” said Johnson, the mother of a daughter, 26, and two sons 24 and 22. She has one grandchild and three more on the way – her middle son’s wife is expecting twins.

As a patient of hematologist/oncologist Dr. Sherif S. Farag, Johnson is seeking treatment at IU Health’s bone marrow transplant unit. She is participating in a special project conceived by IU Health CompleteLife art therapist Lisa Rainey – a rock garden.

“I want the rocks to be inspirational for both the patients and future patients,” said Rainey. Rocks are hand painted by patients and include personal messages and words such as “faith,” “hope,” “love,” and “family.” Rainey will take photos of the rocks then string the messages like garland throughout the bone marrow transplant unit.

“It’s a way to encourage them to fight and not give up,” said Rainey. Along with patients, caregivers, a chaplain and a pharmacist have also added to the collection.

Johnson had her first bone marrow transplant Feb. 21, 2018.

“I was in remission I was going for my monthly check ups everything seemed to be fine and then Jan. 9, 2019 they drew labs like usual and I had relapsed,” said Johnson. On April 2, she had her second transplant. Her youngest son was her donor.

“I have overcome so many things in life. I got pregnant at 16 and had daughter at 17. I was a junior in high school when I had her. I set my mind to finishing school and I did,” said Johnson, who is married to Todd Johnson. As a mother of three grade school children, she went on to obtain her associate degree. In 2016 she achieved her Bachelor Degree in Business.

“I think leukemia is just another hurdle God has put here for me to jump over,” said Johnson. “Like my message on my rock – ‘I am strong.’ I have my down days and I don’t think I’d have gotten this far if it wasn’t for my amazing team members at work. They are constantly sending cards, text messages, gifts and coming to visit. I’m determined to beat this.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email