• Cancer

    In the Loop: Arts at the Bedside provides a different way of healing

At first, the young woman lying in the hospital bed wouldn't even look at Lynn Borkenhagen, let alone talk to her. The woman had metastatic ovarian cancer and had come to Mayo Clinic looking for a miracle. None was to be had. She had arrived at the hospital bright-eyed and hopeful, but over the course of three weeks had retreated deep into herself. Staff caring for her had called on Borkenhagen, a palliative care nurse practitioner, for help.

Since the patient wouldn't speak, her husband filled the silence, telling Borkenhagen about his wife and their arranged marriage, which had blossomed into love. When he mentioned their 6-year-old daughter, the woman turned to Borkenhagen and finally spoke. "How will she remember how much I love her?" she asked.

"She was so concerned about her daughter," Borkenhagen says. "This woman knew she was dying. She needed a way to do legacy work for her daughter." So Borkenhagen reached out to Mayo's Arts at the Bedside program, part of Mayo's Center for Humanities in Medicine, which connects patients with writers, visual artists and musicians. A writer began coming to the woman's hospital room each day, working with her to capture the stories, memories and love that she wanted to leave behind for her family. "It was an epiphany," Borkenhagen says. "She started to become more herself again. She emotionally came to a better place. The experience was healing to the patient."

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This story originally appeared on the In the Loop blog.