Teen Patient Sings About Struggles of Medical Journey

Rachel Hale, 18 and Monica Joy, 15, have a friendship similar to a lot of teenagers. They love getting dressed up, reading magazines and listening to music. But unlike most teenagers, their friendship first started at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital while they were both undergoing treatment for gastrointestinal issues.

Upon their first encounter less than two years ago, they had no idea that their friendship would blossom into one of mutual support and creative inspiration. As each girl confronted the challenges of her own medical journey, they found strength in confiding in one another, connecting as individuals who could understand the other’s experience from a first-hand perspective.

For Monica, music and song writing became an effective tool for self-expression. She penned and recorded an original creation, a song dedicated to Rachel, a friend and mentor throughout her medical journey. In this video, Monica performs her original song Alive! while Rachel stands by to support her. The performance was part of the second “Art with a Heart” benefit art sale and auction, featuring a collection of art created by young hospital patients including several of Rachel’s photographs. The event was sponsored by Royal Motor Sales of San Francisco.

Both Rachel and Monica felt the need for expressive outlets during their hospitalizations, and found creative means to accomplish this goal. Through the art therapy program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, they were provided with a creative process to communicate and better cope with their hospital experience. The Child Life Department at UCSF recognizes the integral role hospital child life programs play in the healing process and works with children, teens and their families to ensure that each child's developmental and emotional needs are met.

“Hospitalization isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a child. Art therapy provides another way for our young patients to express themselves as they get through the difficulties that are often part of hospitalization,” said UCSF Child Life Services Manager Michael Towne. “Having an artistic outlet, whether it be through journaling, song writing or art, empowers patients to find their voice against and beyond the disease.”

While Monica delved into song writing, Rachel actively engaged in UCSF’s 100 Journals Project, where hundreds of teen patients filled journals with entries tackling everything from cancer diagnoses to eating disorders to hospital food. She also began to explore photography as a means to capture her experiences at the hospital.

"When creative and expressive pursuits come along, we see teens discover parts of themselves that allow for an identity that isn’t only dominated by the illness, but rather by who they define themselves to be as artists," said Towne. "It goes beyond the illness which is even better."

And for Monica and Rachel, their friendship extends well beyond their illnesses as well. Now both back at home, they have taken their friendship beyond the walls of the hospital and into the rest of their lives.