Special Holiday Cards Cheer Creators Too : Children With Cancer Use Artwork to Raise Self-Esteem, Consciousness


For most of her life, Andi Drayer, 17, has been drawing and doing artwork of other kinds. But when she was found to have cancer in 1989, the watercolors, paints, pens and crayons she used for pleasure suddenly became tools in her fight against illness.

“I was only 12 when I found out I had cancer,” Andi said. “I ran down the hall crying and throwing up. I didn’t think it would happen to me. Art was like the thing that got me through it, not really the radiation and chemotherapy. The art was a big part of my life. I was able to show my feelings through the art.”

Today, Andi is one of more than a dozen children with cancer to have her art featured on Christmas cards through Kids Cancer Connection Inc., an Irvine-based nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by a group of parents dedicated to helping children with cancer and their families.


Now into its fifth year, the Glad Tidings holiday card program is a therapeutic and educational effort that helps children with cancer gain a greater sense of self-worth, heightens public awareness and raises funds, said Shirley Thiel, executive director of Kids Cancer Connection.

Inside each card is a short biography of the artist, the type of illness the child has and some background about the organization. Most of the cards also have a holiday greeting.

“Self-esteem, for anyone, is so important,” Thiel said. “Here, you have a little boy or girl who has lost all their hair because of chemotherapy. You can imagine how much self-esteem they get by seeing their cards bought by corporations and individuals.”

To the kids, it’s just fun. When staff members went to 4-year-old Daniel Harberts’ home in San Clemente with an armload of art supplies, he was so excited and having so much fun scribbling that they couldn’t get any artwork out of him, Thiel said.

People who have seen the cards usually comment on how professional they look. Getting children as young as Daniel to create a workable design can be a challenge, said Nicole Whitman, special projects director.

Still, the art itself is not the main purpose, she said.

“What I want people to realize is that Kids Cancer Connection is not about being talented,” Whitman said. “If they can draw, they draw. The self-esteem they get from it is incredible.”


To help guide the children, Joan Corman Bloch, a Laguna Beach artist, volunteers her time. When Daniel had difficulty getting started, she came up with the idea of letting him paint the background, sprinkle salt on it to create white stars, then glue a few cut-out yellow stars on top of it all.

“It’s like a little art lesson,” Bloch said. “To watch them develop and do something that they’re proud of is what keeps people teaching. They realize at a very young age that their life could be very short and this is a lasting gift for other people.”

There were times when Jill Hickey, 37, of Trabuco Canyon thought her daughter, Megan, wasn’t going to make it. When Megan was 18 months old, doctors discovered a tumor in her bladder.

Today, Megan has been in remission for more than six years and proudly totes her card around with her, showing it to teachers and friends at school. Megan likes having her art on the cards so much that she’s already starting her design for Christmas, 1995, she said.

“I’m doing joy ,” said Megan, who is also considering a career teaching art. “The J is a candy cane, the O is an ornament and the Y is holly. It’s fun. I like meeting new people and making the picture look real.”


Jill Hickey said she hopes other parents take comfort in knowing there are success stories of children recovering. She also urges other parents to become one of the 75 to 80 families on the Kids Cancer Connection mailing list.


“When I was in the hospital with Megan, I wanted desperately to see success stories,” Jill said. “I wish we had this program at the time she was going through treatment in San Diego. It’s such a positive in a negative life.”

Andi is another success story. Her cancer is in remission, but a barrage of radiation treatments have impaired her vision and growth. She hopes to attend UC Irvine next fall for a possible career in art therapy. Andi works part time after school and on the weekends in the activity center at Fundazzle in the Tustin Marketplace. She also teaches art classes to third- through sixth-graders at Vista Verde School.

Seeing her daughter overcome her visual disability and be strong in the face of a deadly illness has also been inspirational for Barbara Drayer, 46.

“She draws so well,” the mother said. “She loves to draw for them and she also comes into contact with kids with similar experiences. She’s able to talk to them and relate to them.”


Barbara Elam, 41, of Irvine, mother of three healthy children, has bought packs of the cards for the past four years.

“I’m so fortunate my kids don’t have cancer,” said Elam, who first saw the cards in a store where she worked. “I think it’s a good cause and a good donation.”


A pack of 24 cards goes for $15. Also available is wrapping paper ($8 for six 20-inch-by-30-inch sheets) and note cards (12 cards for $7).

Organizers hope to sell $200,000 worth of cards and paper this year. Proceeds support various programs for children with cancer, such as the annual UC Irvine Medical Center weekend family retreat for the young patients, their parents and siblings; the Hooked On Hopes gift-giving program for financially troubled families, and the annual childhood cancer information fair at Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center in Long Beach Memorial Hospital. Last year the group made $140,000 in sales, with about $70,000 forwarded to the programs.

Cards can be purchased at the Kids Cancer Connection office at 17925 Sky Park Circle, Suite C, Irvine, at Pet Metro stores (one of the Kids Cancer Connection board members is chairman of the pet store chain) and at various local shops. The organization also has a sales cart in the Fashion Island shopping center in Newport Beach. To request a brochure from which cards can be ordered by telephone, or to find the nearest distribution center, call 1-800-949-0209 or (714) 851-7774.