MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Offering light amid gloom, freshly painted forests of birch trees adorn the once-bland walls of El Camino Hospital Cancer Center.
The art -- soothing and serene -- is an effort by 25 volunteer artists, organized by the nonprofit Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo, to ease the wrenching experience of malignant disease.
"The beauty will add some smiles and comfort, to make you feel more at home, on a scary journey," said San Carlos breast cancer patient Amanda Cardenas, 35, who completed 12 rounds of chemotherapy at the hospital last week.
These are rooms that change lives -- where patients and doctors plan cancer-fighting strategies.
Now the four rooms, painted Saturday, are themselves changed. Their completion was celebrated on Monday afternoon.
"It is incredible. Bright and beautiful," said Cancer Center medical director and medical oncologist Dr. Shane Dormady, admiring the walls. "It almost puts a lump in my throat. These are emotional rooms, where you have to deliver good and bad news.
"This will complement the good conversations and make them even more special when you're delivering good news," he said. "And they'll cushion and comfort patients when the news isn't as good. A lot of tears have been shed in these rooms. This is going to help."
The group was founded in May 2011 by Nancy Ballard, a San Francisco-based botanical illustrator. It has transformed walls of 99 rooms at ten hospitals, including Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae and Children's Hospital Oakland. Nearly 2,000 volunteers have helped on the projects, planned by around 100 different designers.
Ballard, although not a cancer patient, conceived of the organization when visiting a doctor and found herself dismayed by a soul-sapping environment of chipped paint and nail holes. Through the website Houzz.com, she sought help from interior designers. Several responded right away.
Each project requires a $5,000 sponsorship fee paid to Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo, plus the willingness of the hospital to free up the space for a weekend of artistry.
For the hospital, "it's an inconvenience," Ballard said, "and I need an introduction to someone willing to do a little extra work ... and cut some red tape."
Nationwide, the arts -- painting as well as music, dance, storytelling, poetry, drama, photography, architectural design and gardening -- play an increasing role in patient care.
Incorporating the arts into health care settings has real benefits, according to advocates with the Global Alliance of Arts & Health, a Washington D.C.-based group of 1,400 professionals and students in the arts, humanities and medicine. Modern health care's increasingly high-tech but "low-touch" approach can feed anxiety in patients. The arts can reduce stress and help healing flourish, according to the arts and health group.
The website Art.com stepped up to offer sponsorship of the El Camino Hospital project. The forest theme honors former El Camino Hospital patient Ken Cavanaugh, the husband of one of Ballard's close friends and a native of Minnesota's north woods, recently lost to kidney cancer.
Before the project, "when patients came in feeling poorly, while they were waiting, there was really nothing for them to look at. In medicine, we get used to the drabness," said Dormady. "Now I want to sit in the room."
The murals complement his approach to medicine -- that healing is both art and science.
"I believe patients defeat cancer when their mind, their heart and their body are all moving in the same direction," he said.
"These beautiful rooms are going to help people achieve that."
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.
Rooms That Rock 4 Cancer: www.roomsthatrock4chemo.us or 415-518-1716
Global Alliance for Arts & Health: www.thesah.org