Last week in this column, I let you know about an upcoming theater event entitled “The Goddess Diaries.” As you may recall, "The Goddess Diaries" is a series of disparate theatrical monologues about passages in the lives of women. The show is coming to the Regent Theatre in Arlington for two performances on Sept. 22-23. I mentioned in the column that proceeds from the show will benefit Our Space, Inc, a non-profit organization co-founded by two Belmontians, Gail Erdos and Peggy Tryon.
Our Space’s mission, as delineated on its web page, is “to embrace children and teens who have faced or are currently confronting cancer. It serves to inspire peace, spirit, and healing within a supportive community, through play, learning, and creative exploration.”
To learn more about how Our Space actually touches the lives of kids with cancer, I recently met with Gail and Peggy.
“To really understand why we started Our Space,” Gail began, “You’ll need to know a little about our own cancer experiences. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the winter of 2006. It was terrible for all the reasons a cancer diagnosis is terrible – and I was facing it as a single parent.”
Gail went on to say that, with most of her family in Pennsylvania, it was her friends who stepped up to provide not only meals, childcare, and transportation – but also an outpouring of support and love.
“One of the ways they nurtured me – and I’m convinced it helped me to heal–” Gail explained, “was through art.”
The friends Gail had made while standing on the Butler playground or serving in a Temple activity would stop by her home with a bag full of groceries as well as the makings of an art project. “Someone might have brought beads with them, and she would encourage me to do a little beading. Other times, someone would bring collage materials or watercolor paints.”
Gail admitted to being exhausted and scared during this period of her life, but added that the art projects always gave her a lift.
Peggy, who supported Gail at this time, received her own cancer diagnosis a year later.
“Here I was, walking in breast cancer awareness walk-a-thons on Gail’s behalf, and then, wham, I was facing breast cancer myself.”
Peggy said art and creativity also played a role in her healing process. She worked with Kathy Rushe and Stacey Hammerlind on the mural that now hangs on the corner of Beech Street and Trapelo Road.
“I didn’t paint any of the people,” Peggy admits, “but I really enjoyed spending hours in Kathy’s basement and painting the background scenes.”
At some point, both Gail and Peggy agreed that there should be a place where children and teens with cancer can go to do fun and engaging art projects. Since no such place existed, the women formed Our Space. While Our Space does not have a homebase per se, Peggy and Gail visit all the major Boston pediatric oncology hematology units on a weekly basis, including the Jimmy Fund Clinic, Floating Hospital for Children, Boston Children’s Hospital and MGH.
They usually meet in a playroom or waiting area, armed with bags and boxes full of brightly colored creative art activities to do with children and their families. Some of the kids are just there for treatment for the day, usually chemotherapy, and others are inpatients.
“In spite of what they are facing, they are still kids,” said Gail. “And we give them a happy kid experience, a chance to focus on art – on the joy of creating something – and not on the ravages of the disease.”
Gail and Peggy admit to having learned a few practical things since Our Space began.
“We no longer use glitter,” Gail explained, “it’s too messy. Glitter glue is much better …”
When I asked these women what the best part of walking into a hospital loaded down with art supplies was, they both agreed: seeing the kids happy and engaged, even if for just a little while.
“It’s so meaningful to bring a little fun into their lives,” said Gail.
“You’re helping them get through this phase of their lives,” Peggy added. “Who better than two women who have been through it themselves? And after all, this is what life is about. We were put on Earth to help each other.”
If you’re around this weekend, check out "The Goddess Diaries" at Arlington’s Regent Theater. And in doing so, know that you’ll be helping kids and their families by supplying brightly colored art materials and glitter glue.
For more information about Our Space, visit http://ourspacerocks.org.
For tickets to "The Goddess Diaries," visit the website.