A temporary construction wall inside LDS Hospital has become a place for oncology patients to vent with colorful words and drawings, providing an open forum for the emotions often hidden from those who've never heard the words, "You have cancer."
Bruce Daughters, a 52-year-old RV enthusiast whose leukemia returned on Christmas Eve after a two-year hiatus, was wandering the halls late one January night when he found his feelings spilling onto a Sheetrock wall, loosed by a colored marker in his hand.
"My mom always told me I couldn't draw on the wall, but one night I couldn't sleep and I started drawing," he said, pointing at the "scribble art" design that transported his mind outside his sick body and back to childhood.
Others saw his artwork, and "within a few days, the wall was covered" with a rainbow of hopes, wishes, frustration and gratitude.
"Every little comment helps you keep some perspective on your own treatment."
Daughters is in and out of the hospital regularly, preparing for a bone marrow transplant within the next few weeks. A donor has been found from the national registry because none of his family members' marrow was compatible, he said.
Apparently patients aren't the only ones who use the wall as an outlet, or a pick-me-up. "The other day, the nurses even said that when they have a down day they come out here and get inspiration from the wall."
Nurse Tony Hull, an eight-year veteran of the transplant unit, said he and his colleagues see the wall as one of several healing exercises for patients who spend weeks and months in treatment.
"We need to find incentives to get them out of their rooms and walking around, interacting and exercising," he said, adding the wall is a continuing draw for those who spend their days in treatment. "One day we had six or seven patients, all wearing their sterile gowns and their face masks all out there talking and writing together."
One patient or family member penned an "Ode to Nurses" on one section, lauding the physical and emotional care they receive each day from people who tend to become a bit like family over time.
When the messages first began appearing, some wondered if hospital administrators would nix the public forum over concerns about patient privacy. But Hull said they signed off on it, and the pull of shared emotion has become so powerful that even after construction is finished, "I think we could put up some of those dry erase boards" to allow future patients the same chance."
Brandon Bolander was 10 months into his service as an LDS missionary in Arcadia, Calif., when his leukemia returned, sending him home to Utah and back to the hospital.
He still wears a mask following his bone marrow transplant a month ago, and he sees his own drawing of himself in gown and mask each day on the wall as he recovers. Because most patients look alike in their sterile attire, "you kind of feel like you are just a cookie-cutter somebody."
The wall provided him an outlet not only to express himself but to learn how diverse the feelings and experiences of his fellow patients are. It's helped lift his spirits and give him hope for the future.
"I've found humor to be the best thing for me," he said.
"They say I'm doing better than most. My older brother was my donor and it all went really smoothly … but after the transplant I was feeling pretty crappy. It was nice to come out here, see the drawing, and remember that I was feeling good once."