'A Therapeutic Gift’: Art Helps 6-Year-Old Cope with Cancer Treatment

December 11, 2019 5:00 AM

While undergoing cancer treatments, one child discovers a lifelong talent in the art of painting.


When Colton McGowan was feeling abdominal pain, his parents, Rich and Amy, took him to their local urgent care facility. That was the beginning of a lengthy and anxiety-filled journey for the six-year-old and his family.

But it was a journey that would end up providing Colton with a lifelong gift — the gift of art.

A frightening diagnosis

Tests at the urgent care facility showed that Colton had a mass on his lung, and he was immediately referred to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for treatment.

“We were here at least a week, when they did a biopsy and a few other tests,” said Rich McGowan, who works at the Kellogg Eye Center Optical Shop.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

The tests revealed Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a scary diagnosis, but a highly-treatable form of cancer.

A team effort

From doctors to bedside nurses to social workers and child life specialists, a full team came together to help treat Colton. It was the latter group that may have ended up making the biggest impact.

“On our last day as an inpatient, they took Colton to the art room and introduced him to painting,” Rich said. “We had watched some Bob Ross videos together, so he knew he wanted to try it out.”

The results spoke for themselves.

“Everyone in the room was amazed at what he painted, a mountain scene that he gave to his mom for Mother’s Day,” Rich said.

That painting, called Colton’s Mountain, went on to win honorable mention at a recent Gifts of Art Employee Art Exhibition. But even more rewarding was what the artwork represented and provided to the McGowan family.

Parents with son holding painting.
Colton McGowan, with his parents after painting. Credit: Hunter Mitchell

LISTEN UP: Add the Michigan Medicine News Break to your Alexa-enabled device, or subscribe to our daily updates on iTunesGoogle Play and Stitcher.

“The focus that art gives you is healing,” Rich said. “Colton wasn’t asking ‘Why is this happening to me?’ In fact, he wasn’t focusing on anything that he couldn’t control, only on what he could control.”

‘A blip in his life’

After four rounds of chemotherapy, Colton has been declared cancer-free. And while it was a frightening few months for the McGowans, they’ll look back at their time at Michigan Medicine fondly.

“Art has become a therapeutic gift to our family,” Amy said. “We had something so negative happen, something that will hopefully be just a blip in his life, and out of it came something so positive. Colton will now be painting and creating art for the rest of his life.”