He left the mouse, his mouse painting, and the laughs they brought behind, but not his paintbrush.
In the past year or so, Shroff, a cancer surgeon with Wellstar Healthcare System since 2005, has completed about 20 paintings. Many of his subjects are animals he’s seen in his travels, such as the wildebeest, hyena, zebra and cheetah.
Shroff, a native of Mumbai, India, found painting was just what the doctor needed.
“The job surgeons do, especially cancer surgeons, who are doing big surgeries on patients who are already frail, is stressful,” Shroff, a 52-year-old married father of two, said.
Credit: Phil Skinner
Credit: Phil Skinner
He knew he needed a way to compartmentalize his life and destress and found that painting does for him what meditation does for others.
“Somehow, it just fell into place,” he said. “It was very serendipitous.”
Shroff created Wellstar Medical System’s cancer oncology unit in 2005 at Kennestone Regional Medical Center and keeps a hectic pace that starts at 5 a.m. and often doesn’t end until 9 p.m. But he makes time for his painting, usually 15 to 20 minutes before bed.
Staff at the cancer center had a place ready to display some of Shroff’s paintings this fall. Since 2020, artwork has hung in a well-traveled area of the center that leads to the cafeteria and to patient radiation. It’s part of the center’s art program, developed by Michele Costelloe, the hospital’s care coordinator and a 22-year breast cancer survivor.
Costelloe remembers how cold and clinical the environment felt at the cancer center in Florida where she went through her radiation treatments.
Wellstar has “a beautiful building and a wonderful facility,” she said. “We just needed to do something to brighten it up.”
Her solution was to display artwork that can provide patients, caregivers, visitors and employees respite.
“I didn’t tell anybody. I just did it. Then came the feedback – patients stopping taking pictures with the art, which they still do,” Costelloe said. “The next thing I know, doctors were telling me about patients who are artists, and patients were coming up to me asking if they could display their art. It just took off.”
Patients, caregivers, and community members began bringing in their art to be displayed on a four- to six-week rotation. Shroff was the first doctor.
“I can’t tell you how many of his patients stopped and were like shocked,” Costelloe said. “‘This is my Dr. Shroff who does this art, they would say.’”
She said doctors are often seen as operating at a different level than their patients, possibly because of their education or status.
“It gave everybody a big boost,” Costelloe said. “It’s a passion for him, and it’s an outlet, I’m sure, for him to be creative and to tap into the creative juices we all have. He found his niche, and we just embrace it.”
Gina Halpern looks at the artwork through the eyes of a cancer survivor and a hospital volunteer.
Artists’ renderings of foreign places can inspire a patient to think: “What would I be doing if I were there?” said Halpern, who was treated at Kennestone in 2017 for Stage 3 colorectal cancer and is now giving back as a volunteer.
“The meaning behind the pictures and photographs here is: ‘Stop, take a minute, realize that there’s so much more that’s left and so much more to look forward to,” she said.
For a doctor, such as Shroff, to be expressing his feelings through the art is great, Halpern said.
“They are the healers. They don’t get to fix everybody or save everybody,” she said. “But, if by looking at a painting, drawing, or snapshot, a patient can achieve even a few minutes or seconds of peace, it’s priceless,” she said.
Shroff said he generally hears through his staff about the excitement that his paintings have generated among his and other doctors’ cancer patients. He likes thinking that his art helps patients by giving them at least a momentary distraction from their cancer.
“I am so surprised, happy and honored,” he said. “I am so honored that it brings joy to others. The gift of giving joy to all has a special place for all.”