For The Catholic Moment published June 9, 2019
Fishers. When Tina and John Gianfagna met in Brooklyn, New York, they were aspiring art students studying Fine Arts and Industrial Design respectively at Pratt Institute. At that time, it never occurred to them the way that art could significantly impact others. After college graduation, Tina and John married, had two daughters and eventually grandchildren. Prior to their move to Indiana in 2001, they lived in Texas, Germany and were owners of a marketing and design firm, in Ohio.
In 1999, Tina and John’s daughter, Jeanette, a 36-year-old wife and mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Jeanette earned an MBA and worked as an Information Technology Manager for a global financial company. In an instant, Jeanette’s life changed entirely, she conquered a mastectomy, 16 weeks of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and eight weeks of daily radiation, only to learn of a reoccurrence and a metastatic spread. For Jeanette, the darkness had indeed been fierce, but it did not overcome her.
Far from an artist, Jeanette received a watercolor paint set from her sister, Diane, and she surmised the creativity of painting that took her mind to a whole new level of consciousness from “darkness into a great light”(Is. 9:2).
“Because life is rarely a black and white proposition, most people are under stress. Stress from work, stress from life in general and sometimes stress due to illness – our own or that of a loved one,” exclaimed Janette’s mom, Tina Gianfagna.
Creating Hope, a 501(C)3 not-for-profit organization was founded by Jeanette Gianfagna Shamblen to help others cope with cancer through self-expression and creativity, inspiring them to find a way through each day toward survival.
Tina said, “daily expression through color became essential for Jeanette to cope with her cancer treatment and isolation from her husband and children, then 5 and 6 years old. When Jeanette made creative expression part of her daily healing regimen, she found those days were her best days.”
Jeanette entered into eternal life in 2003, and her parents keep her memory alive by continuing the legacy of giving cancer patients hope. Tina is the Executive Director of the organization that her daughter founded, working alongside many of Jeanette’s friends and doctors who serve on the Board of Directors.
The Gianfagna’s offer HOPE Kits, workshops and demonstrations at hospitals, churches and parties in peoples homes to bring cancer patients the many benefits of creativity. It is through private donations, volunteers and an annual fund-raiser that the mission continues to be possible. Since it’s inception, Creating Hope has given thousands of Hope kits to cancer patients at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, in Indianapolis. Creating Hope volunteers invite patients and their care-givers to try a HOPE kit while undergoing treatment.
Jeanette’s dad, John exclaimed, “studies have found that creative expression is not only necessary in the healing process, but actually enriches the lives of women, men and children during one of the most stressful experiences of their life.”
“Research suggests that even one hour of art therapy can positively impact a broad spectrum of symptoms related to pain and anxiety in cancer patients, such as improving depression and reducing fatigue,” said Tina.
Creating Hope believes HOPE kits will enhance the ability of patients to cope with cancer treatment, and provide them with an important emotional outlet during their treatment journey,” John added.
Many parishioners at Holy Spirit at Geist Church in Fishers have been the recipients of the mission of Creating Hope through workshops that the Gianfagna’s offer monthly. “Many people come to the workshops with stress or fear and they leave changed,” said John. Tina and John share what so many others have experienced while coloring their drawings. They learned from medical professionals and patients that a relaxed mind allows the body to produce endorphins as their own natural pain and stress relief. They encourage participants to think about a prayer, favorite quote or a scripture and write it on the paper, if they feel so inclined.
There is no competition or contest in art creativity, it is simply an invitation to relax the mind and alleviate stress with non-denominational designs that were created to bring out the child in everyone. “We noticed that when people’s minds relax, the body produces natural healing compounds called endorphins. Endorphins are natural stress and pain relievers,” said John Gianfagna.
The Gianfagna’s encourage soothing music and a cup of tea with their drawings. If you would like to “give” or “receive” a Hope kit, volunteer or support the mission financially, you can find more information and various kinds of Hope kits available for purchase on the website at: CreatingHope.us
Tina exclaimed, “Each week we feel blessed to meet amazing people by listening to their cancer story. We share our legacy of Jeanette because it is a privilege to serve others and it reinforces God’s amazing grace.” And, she said “we always pray for miracles.”
The annual Creating Hope fundraiser is an invitation that is open to the public on Friday, August 16, 2019 at Daniel’s Vineyard, in McCordsville.
Kerin Buntin earned a Masters degree in Pastoral Theology from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College; she is the author of an on-line blog titled Embrace Your Faith Journey; and is the founder of Peace Love Pilgrimage; above all, wife and twice blessed mom.