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At Roswell Park, cancer patients choose art that hangs in their hospital rooms

It gets awfully dull sitting in a chair, staring out the window of her fifth-floor room at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, said Angelic Banko.

The Grand Island mother of two boys, ages 3 and 5, has been hospitalized for 21 days to treat internal bleeding.

But just before lunch Tuesday, Banko got very excited. She knew what was coming.

Like clockwork every Tuesday, longtime Roswell volunteer Julie Legters rolls what's known as a patient art cart up to Banko's hospital room, chats and shows her various images of photographs, watercolor paintings and pencil drawings that are loaded onto an iPad. If she wants, Banko can pick out a work of art, and Legters will hang the framed original in her room.

As many as 65 other patients on two hospital floors of Roswell can do the same thing.

Angelic Banko of Grand Island looks at artwork on an iPad being held by volunteer Julie Legters. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Legters' cart is loaded with freshly disinfected, framed art — ranging from rich, rural landscape scenes, to water lilies, grazing Belted Galloway cattle, wildlife, a tree bursting with cherry blossoms and more — that are part of Roswell Park's collection. The pieces are created by Western New York artists. No duplicates are on the cart.

Tuesday, Banko thoughtfully selected a drawing of a caramel-colored giraffe for her wall because it reminded her of the type of drawings her younger sister does in Kentucky. "I think that's the connection," she said, while Legters hung the work near a window.

Last week, Banko selected a block print of deer, because of her boys' passion for deer. Her first week at Roswell, she chose a landscape scene of flowers and dandelion-like grass from the art cart.

"I love that they change it out," said Banko, who survived acute myeloid leukemia two years ago. "It's the same walls, day after day after day. To have something different to look at while sitting in a chair, is nice and not to see the same thing."

"This piece I really like," Banko said of the giraffe.

And while she expects to go home this week, Roswell's new Patient Art Cart initiative has brightened her spirits and inspired her.

The initiative began last October, following Roswell Park's application for a Quality of Life grant in 2016. The art cart is funded by $20,000 of a $100,000 donation from Ingram Micro for patient-support programs and event sponsorships. The money helped pay for framing the paintings, putting up art railings in hospital rooms and disinfecting each piece before they are put in patient rooms.

The initiative has been such a hit that Roswell Park hopes to use some of the remaining grant money to acquire new art.

The art allows patients to personalize their rooms, but the rewards reach far deeper. Doctors say it's a therapeutic tool for patients. It provides them with a happy distraction. And the patients often connect with the art.

Legters, a full-time litigation paralegal, said she sees that firsthand every Tuesday as she asks long-term patients on the fifth and sixth floors at Roswell if they want to select one of the 20 framed works on the art cart for their rooms.

"It's immediate gratification," said Legters. "I think it is very therapeutic. It creates an opportunity for people to see and think about something else."

The art also gets people talking. "It sparks conversation," she said, recalling how one patient was fond of a central New York farm scene reminding him of "a very happy place" where his daughter was married. Another loved a picture of a rose, saying it resembled her rose garden at home.

Legters has been pushing one type of cart or another as a Roswell Park volunteer since 2005.

"I enjoy my Tuesdays," she said, smiling. "I am known by many as the cart lady."

Volunteer Julie Legters pushes a cart of art to patient rooms. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

She is no art connoisseur, but she said she loves it in her own way.

"I did not have an art background, but I appreciate art," she said, looking at a landscape of a tree-canopied grassy path that reminded her of a scene at Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora. "Art is something that is a common bond for people. Everyone has a level of sensitivity and appreciation."

Empathetic and upbeat as she goes from room to room, Legters said patients sometimes just want to chat with her.

Just a floor above Banko, patient Richard Guerin was drawn Tuesday to a photograph of water lilies. For Guerin, a photographer, the connection was personal. He said he takes lots of pictures of lilies and specializes in mixed miksang, a contemplative way of photographing nature.

"I think it's a fantastic opportunity to get people interested in art. I love this form," he said. "There is energy in nature and this is a way of showing it."

Patients cannot buy the art cart works from Roswell, but if they convey their interest in a particular piece to community volunteer specialist LJ Dusel, she tries to connect them with the artist to purchase a print.

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