A Beautiful Day of Art and Makeup for Teen Hospice Patient
Posted by Megan Andriano
I received an art therapy referral for Brittany, a 19-year-old on our pediatric hospice services living with a rare cancer that affects her connective and soft tissue. Ironically, the referral specifically stated she is not interested in making any art, but loves makeup.
The word “art” can be off-putting to a lot of people and can even prevent them from accepting art therapy services, so I was looking forward to working with someone with such a unique request. I reached out to Brittany’s mother to schedule a visit. Her mother reiterated early in our conversation that Brittany did not want to make any art, only makeup. I explained how I would respect Brittany’s wishes, that makeup is a creative outlet and our ultimate goal together is to use this creative expression to help support Brittany.
After two cancellations from the family, I worried Brittany and I may not get the chance to meet. We had rescheduled for a third time at her grandmother’s, where she usually lived. I called before leaving, a request from the mother and grandmother. Grandma explained that Brittany was at her mother’s home, which was an additional 30 minutes farther and initially suggested that the session be rescheduled for a week later.
I looked at my clock and realized I could still make this work – even arriving at our original scheduled time if Brittany still wanted a visit. I called and Brittany was still open to giving it a try! I put the address in my GPS and hit the road, going over and over in my head different considerations for this visit. I arrived at the mother’s house and grabbed jewelry-making supplies. I knew Brittany would already have the makeup and I wanted a plan B. I figured jewelry-making, just like makeup, was also about decorating ourselves to feel empowered. I intentionally left all my “traditional” art making supplies in my trunk.
Grandma welcomed me inside and led me upstairs to Brittany’s room where she greeted me with a smile from her bed in the corner of the room. I was completely blown away as I see Brittany is surrounded by her portrait drawings displayed all over her walls. There had to have been over 30! I had assumed the “no art” request was because she had never identified as an artist. I was humbly corrected as Brittany explained in quiet and slightly slurred speech that she hadn’t drawn since she had “got sick,” as her hands had become contorted, which made it difficult to hold a brush or pencil and have the same control as she had previously.
I offered different approaches we could engage in for this session, including exploring a more free and abstract painting technique and finding different ways for her to hold a paintbrush. Brittany was open to this and chose painting as our first intervention over jewelry-making or makeup. I went to my car and grabbed the needed supplies. Brittany was able to hold a paintbrush with an egg-shaped adapted handle. Grandma came in to check on Brittany and offered the idea of putting a slender-handled paintbrush through a makeup sponge for better grip. What a perfect and personalized intervention from Grandma! This was a great solution for Brittany that gave her the opportunity to use brushes of different sizes and was a great tribute to her love for makeup.
She was focused as she painted freely and shared how it felt good to be making art on paper again. The session was approaching the closing hour and so I began to discuss what we could do together at our next visit. She began talking about makeup and then asked if we could do it now. Something in my gut told me to extend this session, so I happily followed Brittany’s directions with where to get her makeup.
It was beautifully organized in these brightly colored drawers in her room. One drawer filled with eyeshadows, another with lipsticks and glosses. Every drawer had another fun category of makeup to use, and in every color imaginable! Brittany asked that I put makeup on her and didn’t want to give any suggestions with colors or techniques. She simply laid her head back on her pillow, closed her eyes and let me put makeup on her gorgeous face.
The room was quiet and calm as I brushed eye shadow on her and applied creamy lipstick. A seemingly simple task that many of us experience daily, probably even consider a chore, was transformed in this moment to a sacred space. I was aware of the trust that had to exist for her to allow me to use her special collection of makeup on her very own face. I was aware of how makeup was a powerful tool for Brittany. It helped her keep her sense of identity when cancer was transforming her body in so many unfortunate ways. I was beyond honored to be present in this moment with her.
Brittany looked in the mirror when I was finished and smiled. We made plans for our next time together and said our goodbyes. I got back in my car and basked in the pool of emotions on my drive: grateful, humbled, excited, inspired, sad.
She died less than a week later, six days to be exact. That beautiful 19-year-old with the largest collection of makeup I’ve ever seen will forever be in my thoughts and her lessons will continue to be carried with me every day, with every client.
It was our privilege to care for Brittany. We send our deepest condolecens to her loved ones.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Find out more.
Note: Names have been changed.