‘Rockin’ It: Art Helps Cancer Patient Find Healing and Purpose
SAN FRANCISCO – “Life is tough, but so are you.”
This powerful message is hand painted onto a smooth, palm-sized stone that rests at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center’s Van Ness Campus kindness rock garden in San Francisco.
But it won’t be there for long.
Someone who needs it will pick it up and take it with them.
That’s the idea behind the hospital’s rock garden, located on the facility’s fifth floor terrace. Here, stones with inspiring messages and colorful scenes are on constant rotation as patients, staff and visitors are encouraged to “take one, share one, leave one.”
This simple yet meaningful concept struck a chord with Cameron Yee, a nursing student who found herself at CPMC, part of the Sutter Health not-for-profit network of care, when her cancer returned.
Yee was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in the body’s soft tissue, at 18. She went into remission in 2016 and began feeling the cancer’s symptoms again in October 2019.
Yee was admitted to CPMC in late 2019 due to a complication from her chemotherapy and radiation. Her oncologist suggested a visit by the medical center’s expressive arts therapist, Jane Siegel.
Siegel introduced Yee to painting rocks as a form of mindfulness, self-care and an outlet to distract her from pain. It was the perfect non-medicinal prescription for Yee’s creative mind.
A “You’ve Got This” kindness rock was the first she took from CPMC’s garden.
“This rock kept me grounded and hopeful. It was one of the things that gave me strength and motivation to keep on going. I am forever grateful for the person who painted this rock,” said Yee.
Yee has taken to painting rocks like Monet took to painting watercolors. She was hooked—and more importantly, uplifted.
“Cameron is our rock star of rock art,” laughs Jane Siegel. “Art therapy is an outlet that offers true health benefits and stress relief for patients and staff alike. It’s deeply rewarding as well as healing.”
Now, months later, Yee has started an effort called ‘Rock Kindness’ to help populate CPMC’s rock garden and grow the rock kindness community at large.
Each month, Yee drops off a new series of rocks. Some of her themes have included “You’ve got this” and “Nobody fights alone.”
She has also started an Instagram page, @rock.kindness, where followers can learn about journey and see her latest designs and motivational messages.
At 21, Yee’s in her final semester of nursing school at Dominican University of California and shadowing a nursing preceptor at CPMC.
“I hope to become a pediatric nurse or specialize in something where you can see more chronic patients,” she says.
Yee keeps her “You’ve Got This” rock on her nightstand, where it serves as a reminder of a moment when the exact message she needed, was delivered to her at the exact right time.
Yee knows that no matter what curve ball life throws her way, SHE’S GOT THIS!