Tracy’s Kids: Framing Art Therapy in the Context of Pediatric Communication

Many children who are battling cancer and blood disorders must undergo medical procedures that are confusing or create anxiety, and they don’t always know how to express their feelings. The art therapy program in oncology and hematology at Children’s National, which is funded by Tracy’s Kids, meets a child’s emotional needs by providing a healthy, creative, and fun outlet that helps them process their experience. With $1.6 million in funding and supplies donated by Tracy’s Kids, the program features an art therapy room and five full-time art therapists. Five hundred patients participate each month in art therapy activities at Children’s National’s Centers for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Washington and Northern Virginia. The founder and chairman of Tracy’s Kids, Matthew Gerson, has keen insight into what these children are going through; he was diagnosed with cancer as a child himself in the late 1960s, when he was 10 years old. This was a time when no one spoke about cancer, to the child or to anyone else. 

 “It was the ‘c’ word. It was whispered,” Gerson says. “As a child you are especially confused, and scared, and don’t get it. To this day, I don’t get it.” Years later, as a successful DC-based music executive, Gerson decided on his 40th birthday that he would do something “for kids enduring a dreadful chapter in their lives.” Art therapy team member Jessica Girard shares the dramatic change that children experience through the program. “I love seeing a family’s experience in the clinic transformed by the power of the creative process. Time and time again, I watch silent, frightened, and anxious patients become confident, expressive, and vocal in our art space.” “To me that’s the essence of what we’re trying to do,” says Gerson. “I remember enduring several scary procedures plus chemo and radiation, and we’re helping kids deal with such experiences through art.” Dr. Jeffrey Dome, Chief of Hematology and Oncology at Children’s National, who specializes in pediatric solid tumors, also observed the positive effect of Gerson’s program on his patients. “Because of Matt Gerson’s vision so many years ago, Tracy’s Kids Art Therapy program has grown and uniquely supports our children throughout their battles with cancer,” says Dr. Dome. “We could not do this without Matt and his loyal donors, I’m certain I speak for all of our families when I offer sincere thanks.”

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