Thrive by IU Health

Totes, t-shirts, tapestries: This artist finds healing through her work

Totes, t-shirts, tapestries: This artist finds healing through her work

IU Health CompleteLife is seeking entries for the Fourth Annual Art Show. This year’s theme is “What Happens After.” Here is the story of one artist’s journey.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

It was a journey to get to IU Health and it’s been a journey to healing. Kathryn “Kate” Reuschel says it was her art that helped light her path.

“Honestly without my art I don’t know if I would have been as positive. I had five months of physical therapy on my hand and couldn’t sew but I was still able to create new works through photo illustrator,” Reuschel, 37. The hand weakness was a side effect of her lymphoma diagnosis. “When I was focused, I was hyper focused. It really got me through the bad times,” she added.

Now Reuschel is working on a special piece that will be part of the IU Health CompletLife Art Show, Sept. 20-24. The CompleteLife Program is a comprehensive therapy program that attends to the body, mind and spirit of the whole person. Services are available to patients and families and include yoga, music, massage, and art therapy.

The theme for this year’s art show is “What Happens After,” and is intended as a reflection from patients and caregivers about diagnosis, survivorship, and other health-related events. All art levels and various media forms are now being accepted through September 8. Find out more information here.

Reuschel’s connection with IU Health began in 2017, but her health issues began four years earlier.

In 2013 she began having severe vertigo issues. Sometimes, so severe she ended up on the bathroom floor. Health care providers at other hospitals ran countless tests and suggested she read books on “anxiety and hyperventilation.”

“It was very discouraging and things did not get better,” said Reuschel. “As my condition became worse, I was not reliable as a full time employee.” So she pursued her degree in fashion design and textiles and opened a business, specializing in one-of-a-kind art. Under the name, “dyeshappy,” she creates colorful pieces from dyed fabric. Those works include various pieces of home décor – tapestries, floor mats, and pillow shams – as well as fun gifts such a totes and t-shirts. The name, “dyeshappy” reflects her upbeat focus on her survival, said Reuschel.

Her piece for the art show demonstrates that outlook. Her illness has compromised her lungs so she created a hand-dyed fabric quilt resembling a lung with butterflies – symbolizing hope.

“Before my diagnosis, I was extremely active – yoga and Pilates, and horseback riding. Now I look at the things I got to do and I’m grateful for the future,” said Reuschel.

That outlook propelled her through her diagnosis and treatment with IU Health.

In August of 2017, after an ongoing cough she returned to her local hospital – at that time, located in northern Michigan.

“I went to my doctor thinking maybe it progressed to bronchitis - no big deal. I had an x-ray done and two days later a CT scan. Within a couple days I was seeing a pulmonologist and then a thoracic surgeon saying I had to have a CT needle biopsy for an orange-sized tumor in my chest,” she said. The biopsy was inconclusive. The next step was a VATS biopsy. “My surgeon messed up and had to do an emergency thoracotomy to save my life. He then proceeded to tell me my tumor was inoperable and I did not have cancer,” said Reuschel.

Her partner, Scott Johnson, began researching hospitals with the top thoracic surgeons and learned of IU Health – a seven-hour trek from their Michigan home.

She first met with IU Health Dr. Aliya Noor, who specializes in pulmonology and respiratory care. Further scans connected her with IU Health Dr. Kenneth Kesler, who specializes in cardiothoracic surgery.

“The next option was a clamshell thoracotomy to remove the tumor and figure out what type of cancer I had. In February 2018, Dr. Kesler successfully removed my tumor. He also removed the majority of my right lung and phrenic nerve as well as lymph nodes and while I was still in the hospital gave me a diagnosis of Stage 2 Hodgkin’s,” said Reuschel. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a disease of the lymphatic system, part of the immune system.

She then became a patient of IU Health Dr. Jose Azar, who specializes in hematology, along with Dr. Naoyuki Saito, radiation oncologist. She received four cycles of chemotherapy followed by radiation, along with physical and occupational therapy. She remained in Indianapolis for nine months during treatment.

“Every single staff member was so incredible. The Cancer Resource Center gave me blankets and head caps and even a free wig. The volunteers played music when I was in the ICU and then massaged my feet during chemo. I cannot say enough positive things about IU Health,” said Reuschel.

Now a resident of South Carolina - an 11-hour drive from Indianapolis – Reuschel continues to return to IU Health every six months to monitor her condition.

“Dr. Azar is someone extremely special, and I don’t say this lightly. He takes the time to get to know you. He wants to know what’s going on in life. He literally watches you and your body language,” said Reuschel. “He’s such a special doctor. I’m not willing to give him up. I’d drive 20 hours to meet him. He is so in tune to the human body and so very caring, he would know something was wrong before I told him.”