A piece of felt can bring back memories of childhood.

Cold clay can be molded, shaped and formed through hard hand movements.

Canvas can hold black and white emotions, often hard to swallow.

Creating art using any number of artifacts can also create healing.

A group of women who came together with one common connection — cancer — finished a six-week expressive art therapy session with a new connection — kinship.

The class was funded by a grant, offered free to a limited number of participants, and run by Creative Arts Therapy Services. The organization will start sessions for movement/dance and music later this month, all at the Cancer Center on the campus of Chandler Regional Medical Center. Another group will run a journal writing session.

At the center of the table the women sat around Tuesday was their last creation, an intention box. Each of the women, along with their instructor, art therapist Stephanie Brinkop, added elements to the box to show their feelings for one another as well as their intentions for their lives. It was covered with colored hearts, cloth leaves, tissue paper and stamped impressions.

Pasted on the inside bottom of the circular box was a sign: “Survivor. 1 year. 2 year. 5 year. Infinity.”

The first time she walked into the room with the group, Erika Scheffler, 76, admits, “I thought we’d be painting like an art class.”

“At my age, everything I do is so routine. Our art was so different every week. Everyone had their own thing. Plus, we got to love each other,” she said.

Scheffler said their projects ranged from being asked to create something from elements in a paper bag (such as a matchstick, money, a box, and more) to using scarves to “paint” a picture of a sunset at the beach.

“It gets the focus off the illness and doing something else,” said Paula Moran, 60. “Plus, there’s that feeling that you’re not alone. All of us have similar issues with our health.”

“Each of us is at a different stage with cancer, but that made me become aware that I am not going to let it overpower me. That lesson helped me become thankful I’m alive,” said Susan Braun, 48.

La Verne Abe Harris, 59, said she enjoyed the connections she made with the other women in the group. The class is open to both genders, but this class was all female.

“I think the class was very relaxing. It was very much like meditation, doing those types of projects,” she said. “I do think that the state of Arizona is very much behind in using expressive arts as therapy for cancer patients. In my opinion, the arts help you find a purpose in your life. You might use the expressive arts — dance, music and art — to find a connection to the purpose of life for cancer patients.”

For the past six years, Brinkop has worked as a professional art therapist. She’s always been an artist; her first career was as a graphic designer. But she discovered the power of art and returned to school for a master’s degree in art therapy.

Today, she works with children in schools, as well as adults in psychiatric care and in wellness programs, like the work at the Cancer Center.

“I was so inspired by the potency of art as a healing quality. Ever so slowly I transformed my career,” she said.

In sessions, she asks participants to express themselves or their feelings through art, and they find that, for a while, they forget about the cancer and the stress of their lives.

“It’s a super highway to the spirit. An internal self is revealed that might be surprising to the person who created it,” she said. “I think the healing comes in many forms. It comes in the final product that is a reinstatement of ‘I exist. I am here. This is who I am.’”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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