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Friday, October 31, 2014

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Four friends come to aid of cancer patients

Tags: Health
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From left are Matt Cohen, Ben Cowley, Emma Tushinski and Zac Cooper, organizers of a fundraiser to provide an art therapist for cancer patients. [Bruce Cowley photo]

TORONTO — A group of four friends are hoping their first major fundraising event will inject a bit of cheer into the lives of cancer patients at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital as they wait for chemotherapy treatments.

From November 2010 until February, Emma Tushinski, 21, was fighting a form of leukemia, which required several rounds of chemotherapy, as well as radiation treatment, bone-marrow biopsies and lumbar punctures. She was being treated at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre, and was astonished at how long patients had to sit while they waited to get treatment, and how emotionally draining that waiting could be.

“When you have such an intense thing happening to you, the waiting adds a lot of stress,” she said.

Over the 2-1/2 years she spent undergoing treatment, Tushinski would read, knit and watch movies in the waiting room. “Anything to pass the time,” she said.

When three of her friends heard that story, they decided to do something about it, forming the foundation for Project Art, a fundraiser set to run on May 9 at a marketplace gallery in the Burroughes Building on Queen Street West in Toronto.

Ben Cowley, Zac Cooper and Matt Cohen, all 22, are working with Tushinski to raise money for an art therapist, as well as additional distractions to keep patients occupied.

“There’s a lot of research giving credence to art in the healing process,” Cowley said, so combining their passion for art with Tushinski’s experience was a no-brainer.

He said they’re using a “full-circle idea,” running an event that raises money through art sales to implement an art program at the Odette Cancer Centre. The hospital has determined the cost of a part-time art therapist or teacher would be about $30,000, and Cowley said the team has already surpassed that goal.

“It would cost a lot of money to set aside a room, but we were thinking one feasible idea is having portable art carts,” he said, adding that perhaps in the future, they could set up a multimedia art room.

He said the group is projecting they’ll rake in at least $50,000 for the centre, and perhaps up to $70,000 – a major accomplishment, especially considering none of the planners have had any experience planning this kind of event.

“I threw a party in Grade 12 once,” Cowley joked, adding that the whole ordeal has been trial by fire, but he wouldn’t change a thing. “We’re naive in the best way. We’re open to all ideas, open to talking to anyone and taking on any suggestions.”

The money they’ve raised so far has come mostly from sponsors and donations, and they’re anticipating selling more than 500 tickets at $60 a piece.

The marketplace gallery will feature artists who have a “young, electric and exciting feel,” Cowley said, adding that most are young, but they do range in age, gender and race.

Most notable, he said, is Jimmy Chiale, a French abstract painter and “street artist.” Adding Chiale to the lineup gave the event a sense of legitimacy, helping them to pick up steam and give them credibility to approach other big artists, Cowley explained.

“He’s this cool, cultured, urban guy who makes awesome abstract art,” he said. “We have directed who we talk to based on that.”

The fundraiser will also feature live painter Jess Gorlicky, who will be performing her art at the event, which Cowley said should add excitement and generate a huge buzz.

Both Cowley and Cohen recently quit their jobs to focus on the event full time. Although Cowley called it overwhelming, he said it has also been extremely rewarding.

“On a personal level, it’s great to do something for Emma,” he said, “and I’m also getting a lot of skills – communication skills, learning how to run a big event.”

Tushinski said she hopes that even being able to purchase iPads or other technology could help patients alleviate stress and stop them from focusing on being sick.

Although the event has yet to happen, both Cowley and Tushinski are already looking ahead toward next year,

“I know, next year we’ll be so well equipped,” he said. “We’ll have so much knowledge on how to do it.”

For more information about Project Art, visit project-art.org.

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