Painted Rocks Offer Hope in Trying Times

Handpainted rocks for cancer patients who have completed radiation treatment

A Malibu youngster has found a novel way to spend down time during the coronavirus pandemic, all while brightening the spirits of some cancer patients at a southland hospital. 

Adventist Health Glendale Cancer Center founded an unusual tradition last year, before the age of COVID-19 turned life as we know it topsy-turvy. A group of cancer survivors started a surprise act of kindness by painting rocks to give to their latest fellow patients who had just finished weeks of radiation treatment. 

To the cynics among us, it may not sound like a big gesture, but from all accounts it means a lot to the newly former patients. The rocks were acknowledgement for having survived what’s known to be a grueling treatment for cancer. Fellow survivors encouraged their recovery with a hand-painted rock as a keepsake recognizing their strength and also a certificate of completion of the patient’s radiation therapy. Previous survivors of the treatments would gather at the Glendale center to paint, talk and spend time together in hope and gratitude. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, that therapeutic art came to an abrupt halt. No cancer survivors would be meeting in person for the time being.

Then, a Malibu child decided to take up the mantle and continue the art project so patients who finish their treatments would still get a hand-painted rock and a boost in their recovery.

Eleven-year-old Zachary Wiezorek’s mom, Dr. Sara Kim, is a radiation oncologist at Adventist Health Glendale Cancer Center.  

“In March, I became aware there was a dearth of rocks for the celebratory occasions,” Kim said. “Radiation patients get treatment for several weeks. After patients finish radiation, it’s a big moment for them. At the end of the treatments, staff gathers around the patient and they ring a brass bell to celebrate.” An inspirational poem is also read, along with conferring a completion certificate and a painted rock. 

Kim asked her son if he’d like to help paint rocks for the patients. Wiezorek not only jumped at the chance, he recruited a friend, Evan Vourakis, and his older brother. The trio have recruited other children and peers who are in the middle of distance learning. They formalized their small group with the name “Hope Rocks For Cancer Patients.” The kids moderate a Facebook page filled with heartfelt messages and images of hope painted on rocks.

“The rocks are very well received by the patients. It makes them feel good. They’re surprised to even be getting a memento,” Kim said. “When they hear it was made by a child, I think it really warms the patient’s heart. The patients are eager to have their last day of radiation. They probably think they’re going straight home as usual, but we always take a few minutes to celebrate. You get to know a patient pretty well after weeks of treatment. It’s quite an achievement to finish a course of radiation and we like to recognize that. They’re very thankful (to receive a gift),” according to Kim. 

“It’s a small gesture, but it means a lot to know that someone was thinking about them,” the doctor described.

“Painting rocks is fun,” Wiezorek, a sixth grader at Malibu Middle School, said. “I like to paint rocks with my older brother, Alex. We like to come up with different designs. I hope the rocks make patients smile and give them hope. It makes me feel happy to make painted rocks that cancer patients receive as a surprise gift when they finish their radiation treatments.”