Pink bus brings hope to cancer patients, survivors at wellness fair


Hope is a 38-foot pink recreational vehicle and she’s hard to miss. The inspirational words, “hope, faith, courage, determination, and strength,” are scrawled across her exterior.

Yesterday, Hope was at the Community College of Rhode Island’s seventh annual Wellness Fair, which was established to provide people with access to information and services on leading health issues. More than 40 venders participated.

Hope is part of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, which aims to raise awareness about breast cancer and assist women in need.

The Hope Bus, as it is commonly called, journeys throughout the country stopping at various locations to emotionally mend breast cancer survivors, those undergoing treatment, as well as their families, through healing programs.

“The Hope Bus is a Godsend,” said Mary Jane Bohlen, a two-time breast cancer survivor and local artist who teaches Zentangle, a therapeutic, meditative method of drawing, to help patients and survivors cope with their illness and state of mind. It involves sketching a series of straight lines to form patterns and designs.

For Bohlen, who is from Boston and now resides in Cranston after living in Virginia for 30 years with her husband, Bob, her first bout with breast cancer was more than 20 years ago and there was a second episode four years ago.

During the time of her second diagnoses, she discovered Zentangle in a calligraphy catalog. Interested, she purchased a kit and learned that it’s an inexpensive, portable art.

“All you need is a three and a half-inch square piece of paper and a pen or pencil,” she said. “I can take it with me to the doctor’s office and just sit there and do it. I can’t tell you how much it relaxes you and puts your mind at ease. Anyone can do it.”

In fact, Bohlen teaches Zentangle to children. Recently, she taught it at Carriage House Day Care in Cranston and said it can often help youngsters with Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD.

“After the first day, the director called me and said, ‘The little boy that was sitting to your right has never sat still for more than five minutes and he sat there for the whole hour working,’” Bohlen said. “It helps with sleep issues, too.”

Bohlen introduced Zentangle to the Gloria Gemma Foundation in 2009. Maureen DiPiero, the Foundation’s community outreach coordinator, loves the concept.

“It helps you relax,” said DiPiero. “And that’s the point of all the services on the bus.”

Aside from Zentangle, the bus also offers other healing art programs and calming activities such as manicures, massage therapy, and Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction.

But, the recently added Starfish Project is the largest healing arts program. Made from clay, the starfish creations represent all that is vigilant, inspirational and brilliant, as the sea creature has regenerative abilities and can heal itself after injury, becoming stronger.

This, said DiPiero, is the essence of the Foundation helping people to remain resilient post-harm. The other activities speak to that, as well.

“The bus is a safe place for them to tell their stories,” she said. “We may not be able to help everyone at one time, but we can help everyone, one at a time.”

In addition to relaxation methods, the Foundation also supplies information about helpful resources, and even funds, to those in need.

For Tel Gingras and Komal Talato, both volunteers for the Foundation, the bus is refreshing.

“I love to be on the bus,” said Gingras, an employee of the Rhode Island Cancer Council. “It’s homey and I see different people and talk to them. We learn from them.”

Talato, a fourth year med student at Brown University, agreed. It’s aiding her learn more about patient perspective.

“I think it’s really important for future physicians and people in health care to see the other side of medicine,” she said.

Another volunteer, Sharyn Vicente, an information service technician at CCRI, is also a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in September 2008 and has a great deal of respect for the Foundation.

“They provided services for me and my family and they really get you back into the community as a productive member,” Vicente said. “After you go through something like that, you isolate yourself and it takes a toll on you and your family. They are right there to help you in any way. I just can’t say enough about them.”

Bohlen feels the same.

“It’s so empowering for me and other women to be able to do this,” she said. “They are so supportive and make life good for people going through treatment.”

Moreover, Mary Baker, CCRI Wellness Committee coordinator, shared similar sentiments. She said she was pleased to see people visit the fair to check up on their health.

“If they have no other means of getting tests done, I find it gratifying that they can come here and do it once a year,” Baker said.

The Wellness Fair was sponsored by the CCRI Wellness Committee. For more information, visit

The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation was established in 2004 in memory of Gloria J. Gemma to honor her fight against breast cancer. For more information, call 401-861-HOPE or visit

The Hope Bus was acquired through a donation from The Halkyard Family Fund, with additional support from The Rhode Island Foundation, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and The Amgen Foundation.

For more information about the Starfish Project, call 401-861-HERO. Classes will be held April 2 from 1 to 3 p.m.; May 7 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.; and June 11 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Foundation’s center at 249 Roosevelt Avenue, Suite 201.

To learn more about Zentangle, contact Bohlen at 401-432-6845.


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