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Cancer patients use art therapy to find joy in recovery

Posted at 8:53 PM, Sep 23, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Leukemia is a frightening diagnosis for anyone, but 18-year-old cancer patient Brett Wagner found his inner artist as part of LDS Hospital's recreational therapy program.

He says when he took an art class, he barely passed with a "C," but his free-form technique now enables him to focus on creating something beautiful.

"We were actually moving to Utah from Colorado," explained Brett's mother, Kara Wagner. "We had packed up our house, but as we were coming over, Brett said, 'Mom, I can't focus.'"

When his vision didn't return, they went to the emergency room. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with leukemia and learned he had a long recovery ahead.

"I guess, if you could use the metaphor of going through a desert, it's like some shade to have to make it easier," Brett said about his painting therapy.

Each painting is symbolic, like the rainbow-colored painting that was done the day that his numbers rebounded.

At LDS Hospital, recreational therapy is an important part of cancer patients' recovery.

"In a place where you normally see sadness, it's a hallway filled with joy," said Charlene Clayton, a recreational therapist with the program.

It's a program that just started three years ago, and that they hope will expand.

Brett has finished his newest work to mark 100 days since his bone marrow transplant, with art marking his journey every step of the way.