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Art Therapy Helped Jess In Her Darkest Days

Jess Halkett has faced gruelling treatment for brain cancer but through it all, Art Therapy has made an impact.

Jess Halkett (1)

Jess Halkett knows all about the power of art. Her love affair with art began early in life through school, however its healing impact has helped her navigate the cruellest of blows.

Jess has faced gruelling treatment for brain cancer. But through it all, art therapy has made an impact.

“I’ve always been a creative – a dabbler happy to try everything, but really enjoy lead sketching and drawing,” Jess says.

Sadly, at just 27 years old and one week before Mother’s Day in May 2018, she was diagnosed with Glioblastoma (GBM) – an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer. She was initially alerted by a severe headache and aversion to light, which saw her admitted straight to Flinders Medical Centre and receiving a same-day shocking cancer diagnosis.

An inoperable brain tumour resulted in multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, ongoing seizures, loss of mobility and impaired vision.

In addition, Jess’s life has been turned completely upside down. With two young boys under 10 years of age, her partner Alex ceased his job as a FIFO worker at Roxby Downs to return home to care for their young family. Jess’s grandmother Robyn, a retired nurse is now her full-time carer allowing Alex to continue looking after the boys at their home.

Jess’s previously active lifestyle included swimming, hiking, kayaking and various creative outlets such as drawing and sewing. Her love of reading was even taken away with constant blurred vision and persistent headaches. Fortunately, a family farm on SA’s Fleurieu Peninsula has provided much solace and comfort for Jess, Alex and their boys in the form of nature, birds and kangaroos aplenty.

Through SAPS at Flinders Medical Centre, Jess was referred to the Centre for Creative Health’s (CCH) Art Therapy service. This vital service, also supported by THRF Group’s Palliative Care charity is available to both hospice and community palliative care patients and their families.

Jess found her first session with CCH art therapist Luisa Stocco to be very emotional, exploring the mix of overwhelming feelings of fear, anger and sadness caused by her diagnosis of such an aggressive cancer.

“Art therapy with Luisa opened up feelings and things I’d lost, such as mobility to do all the things I love. These were all suddenly taken away from me without any potential to return,” says Jess.

“I’ve seen Luisa half a dozen times, with the sessions being a huge healing outlet. The process of art therapy has made such an impact on me and the boys, therefore I want to raise awareness of the importance of this essential service,” said Jess.

Art therapy allows people to express emotions that are difficult to verbalise and provides a tangible and perpetual object for family members going forward.

Research also shows that art therapy helps improve the lives of people coping with a terminal medical diagnosis such as cancer. Luisa says art therapy can help a person with cancer and their loved ones cope with the stress and anxiety that accompanies such devastating news.

“There’s an overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety, anger and frustration as you go through cancer treatment,” Luisa says.

“Art therapists are specially trained to provide emotional support and assist patients and their family members in processing feelings.”

It is with sadness and her family’s permission, we advise Jess lost her battle with brain cancer in late January 2022, less than a week after her 30th birthday. Jess touched many hearts with her sassy style and creativity, and was a wonderful advocate for art therapy in palliative care. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.