The WellSpan Spotlight

Bright spots

WellSpan BrightSpot: Painted rocks uplift cancer center 

WellSpan BrightSpot: Painted rocks uplift cancer center

Who: Kathy Papich, physician office assistant at the WellSpan Ephrata Cancer Center, the center's staff, and its patients. 

What: Kathy came up with the idea of a rock garden at the Cancer Center as a source of inspiration, healing, and even whimsy to patients and staff. Just outside the main entrance, the garden is shaped like a flowing stream and filled with colorful, painted, small rocks.  

Rainbows, hearts, and birds adorn the rocks, along with phrases including: "We rise by lifting others," "Be truthful, gentle, fearless," and "When you find yourself in times of trouble, let it be." 

Kathy's idea was born out of her own "time of trouble," when a family member was struggling with substance abuse and ended up in a treatment facility. During this time, Kathy went walking near her house at a labyrinth, a twisting, circular path designed for meditation and reflection. At the labyrinth, she found a small rock painted with the phrase "Grace to lead you." 

"I remember the feeling of being so happy," she says. "It had an uplifting message that I needed." 

Kathy started painting rocks with messages – "You've got this" and "Courage, faith, hope" – and leaving them on the campus of the treatment facility where her family member was staying and at parks near her home. She estimates she's painted close to 1,000 rocks and left them for others to find since she found her own first rock. 

Wanting to share the delightful serendipity of finding an uplifting message along life's path, Kathy approached Cancer Center director Erika Hehnly about adding a rock garden to the facility. Co-worker Erika Beal, a financial case worker, joined Kathy in the effort, helping to set up the garden and assemble little kits with paint supplies and rocks for patients and staff members to take home and decorate. The garden has been growing since the spring and has more than 160 rocks. Once it is filled, patients and visitors will be encouraged to take a rock with them as inspiration if they want.  

John Powers, a patient at the center, eagerly accepted a rock kit. He painted an image of the three wise men traveling through the desert, copying a drawing he saw on a pamphlet at his church. He sees the image as a metaphor for this time of his life. 

"Cancer is definitely a journey," John says. "You have to figure it out as you go. I am looking for salvation, or a cure."  

Words to live by: Kathy loves hearing patients' stories and seeing the rocks they create. It allows them to express their feelings and gives staff an insight into their joys and struggles. 

"The garden brings us closer to our patients," Kathy says. 

While some of the rocks have pink ribbons or messages specific to cancer, some rocks do not, simply showing a beach scene, or a turtle, or flowers. That is meaningful and appropriate, too, Erika Hehnly says. 

"Cancer is a tough part of life," she says, "but it's not all of life."