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ON THE SCENE: Healing initiatives

November 13, 2014
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Elisabeth Jameson is an attractive, intelligent, and articulate woman who once worked closely with former Sen. Hilary Clinton on health policy for children living with chronic illness and disabilities.

At that time, Jameson, a graduate of Stanford University with a post-doctoral fellowship in health policy from the University of California at San Francisco, was a nationally recognized public interest lawyer. Today, she is developing a national recognition as an artist and as a motivational speaker.

"I have never been happier," she said. "I love my life," not a surprising statement, unless you consider that she is living with multiple sclerosis, confined largely to a wheelchair, and can barely move just one hand. She has also become near addicted to coffee and Diet Coke as the caffeine contained therein improves her ability to talk.

Article Photos

Naj Wikoff poses with Ilene Serlin, who uses the arts to foster peace in Israel/Palestine, and Sharon Katz, founder of the Peace Train in South Africa.
(Photo provided)

The subject matter of her art, probably less surprising, is the evolution of her brain as it seeks to counter and adjust to the disease that is slowly destroying her ability to control her body. Initially she hated to look at her brain scans and bear witness to the disease that first caused her to lose her ability to talk in 1992. Brain surgery and therapy enabled her to regain her speech, at least for the past decade, but that hard-won victory will eventually be lost.

In the interim, Jameson decided to confront her disease and use it as a place for an artistic and emotional exploration that she has done through a series of beautifully wrought artistic creations that includes French dies painted on silk and now digital collage and etchings.

This artistic journey that began in 2006 is, in reality, a series of self-portraits that cause us to re-think the meaning of the term as she is not recording the outer face that is exposed to the world, but the inside of her brain and other parts of her body, such as her spine and joints, as they confront, change, and adapt to the disease.

"People ask what it is like to live with cancer," said her colleague Donna Marchesano, now living with lymphoma after a 20-year bout with Crohn's Disease. "I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, wash my face, and eat breakfast like anyone one else. Yes, I have to make adjustments, but life is about making adjustments. I wouldn't change my life either, as cancer has taught me so much. What's made all the difference, is participating in the arts, being able to express how I feel, and creating works of art that I can share," this said as Jameson nodded her head in agreement.

"Being an artist is much harder than being a lawyer," said Jameson, "and much more rewarding."

Jameson and Marchesano were but two of a remarkable array of storytellers, musicians, composers, dancers, storytellers, writers, and other artists along with physicians, educators, creative arts and expressive arts therapists, practitioners in the complimentary therapies, and students who came together on Saturday, Nov. 8, at San Francisco State University to explore the future of healthcare.

Healthcare was not defined as just what takes place in a hospital, or even as the purview of public health programs, but included confronting injustice and healing social wounds on a national scale as one group of artists did in South Africa through organizing the Peace Train in the wake of Nelson Mandala's release from prison and ascendancy to the presidency - a time when many wished to seek vengeance for the decades lived under brutal Apartheid and others wanted to revolt against new policies aimed to bring the races together on equal footing. Many simply could not imagine setting aside anger or that people could find peace together.

Sharon Katz and fellow musicians Abigail Kubeka and Dolly Rathebe decided to organize a giant 500-plus-member multi-racial, multi-cultural vocal and performing ensemble of children from across the country and bring them by train throughout the land demonstrating how the youth of the nation were more than ready to celebrate the end of apartheid together.

The example and images of so many kids working, singing and just enjoying each other's company electrified people and helped promote participation in the first democratic elections in the country's history.

I was at the conference at the request of its organizer, professor Kenn Burrows, and Dr. Alan Siegel, who is leading an effort to organize a statewide association devoted to expanding the role of the arts in healthcare, and as he also works to integrate the arts throughout the Costa County Health Service's hospital and clinics where he serves as a family physician.

My role was to give the keynote address and lead a workshop on how to design healing spaces at the conference, and assist Costa County Health initiate a strategic plan for the arts.

The conference was opened by a student who shared how he felt the arts had literally saved his life - given him the will and purpose to stay alive - and storyteller Garth Gilchrist, who shared the renowned late 19th century and early 20th century naturalist John Muir's belief in the healing power of nature - one of the drivers behind his effort to found the Sierra Club and preserve Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other areas.

Such initiatives made me think of the fledgling effort to promote the Adirondacks as a center for wellness, led by Ernest Hohmeyer that will be held Thursday, Nov. 13 at the Lake Clear Lodge. Today a Google search of the leading centers of wellness, be it nationally or internationally, does not bring up the Adirondacks, a sad irony as our region, most especially lead by people coming to "take the cure" in Saranac Lake, was once internationally renowned as a center of healing with our greatest assist being our wildness environment.

We, too, have a remarkable history and resources to build on, such as the Mirror Lake Inn and Whiteface Lodge spas, retreats being organized by Homeward Bound and Creative Healing Connections, assets that range from a winter snowshoe or backcountry ski to fly fishing, golf and hiking, and a growing array of skilled professionals in the wellness arts.

Missing is a strong collective effort. Hopefully that will come out the wellness initiative at Lake Clear.



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