School of Health Professions

A Healing Mosiac

Nov 22, 2011

Alisha Schoel (left) and Juliann Chau, graduate students in the department of Occupational Therapy Education, stand next to the Tiles of Hope display at Gilda's Club Kansas City.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- At first glance, it might be difficult to understand how the painting of small ceramic tiles could benefit blood and marrow transplantpatients and their families.  However, for those associated with Tiles of Hope, an art-based program supported by the University of Kansas Cancer Center and the KU department of Occupational Therapy, the activity reveals what blood panels and CT scans cannot – the emotional core of what it means to deal with chronic, life-threatening illnesses such as cancer.

Tiles of Hope encourages cancer patients and their loved-ones to express themselves by decorating ceramic tiles.  After they dry, the tiles are glazed and kiln-fired and then placed with other tiles to be displayed in treatment areas. 

The decorating of tiles is more than a distraction or a way to produce eye-pleasing, patient-centered wall coverings;Tiles of Hope is essentially a therapeutic art-making program – a creative process that offers a myriad of positive outcomes.  Through artistic self-expression, people can gain a better level of emotional insight, resolve conflict, augment their interpersonal abilities, manage behavior and improve their physical and mental function – all areas that can be negatively impacted during prolonged periods of ongoing treatment and diminished health.

Treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy and blood and marrow transplants can take a heavy physical and emotional toll - sometimes to a greater degree than the illness they address.  To further complicate matters, these life-saving treatments tend to compromise a patient's immune systems.  As such, the road to recovery can be a solitary and stressful path.

That’s where Tiles of Hope comes in.

The program was founded by Jill Hardy after she witnessed the positive impact that artistic expression, and the sharing of one’s journey, can have.

“My father was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome in June of 2007 and after his diagnosis, he happened to see a tile display that had been made by patients,” said Hardy.   “It really spoke to him and we decided that this was something that we could do together – to start a tile display program at KU. Because it’s so lonely going through the cancer process, this is a great way for patients, and also caregivers, to pass the time and express themselves.”

With a mission in mind, Hardy and her father presented the idea during a treatment visit at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.  The idea was well received and soon Hardy found herself working with occupational therapists – a branch of health care professionals dedicated to helping individuals participate in everyday activities. 

“After we started working with KU and their Occupational Therapy Education Department, this program just took off,” said Hardy.  “They’ve contributed a lot of time to make sure that this program succeeds.  From working with the patients to putting together the tile displays, they’ve done so much.  The program is growing and it’s very exciting.”

On Fridays, field work and service learning students from the KU department of Occupational Therapy Education visit the Blood and Marrow Transplant clinic at KU Med and assist patients as they paint tiles. 

Though the students are volunteers and the costs are minimal, the program does require financial support.  To ensure that Tiles of Hope continues unabated, students hold an annual fundraiser.

This year, the department held its second-annual Tiles of Hope Chili Cookout at Gilda’s Club Kansas City -a community center focused on providing social and emotional support for cancer patients and their loved-ones.  The event raised more than $1,000, was attended by 60 people and produced 40 new tiles.

“It’s great that we had so many people attend the event and paint tiles,” said Alisha Schoel, one of the student leaders behind the Tiles of Hope program.  “For individuals who aren’t immediately impacted by cancer, it’s interesting to see how they interpret what individuals at the KU Cancer Center do to pass time while receiving treatment.”

In addition to assisting with the creating of tiles, the department of Occupational Therapy Education is looking for ways to make the most of the program.  This fall, OT students launched a website –– where patients and their friends and family can go online to view their tiles.  In addition to digital space, the program is hopeful that they’ll soon have a permanent area at the Cancer Center where the tiles can be displayed. 


KU's Occupational Therapy programs are nationally recognized for excellence as a leader in education and research in the field. The OT Education Department resides in the KU School of Health Professions and is located on the KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kan.

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