Folding Paper, Sharing Hope

Woodbury’s Woodwinds Health Campus practices art therapy through the Cranes of Hope organization.

The healing power of art has been long recognized and celebrated. Its ability to surrender usually busy brains to simplicity and peace has made it a valued therapy method. So when Jeanne Reeve was battling breast cancer at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis five years ago, the simple, repetitive act of folding origami paper cranes was a calming practice.

The folded cranes also carry a powerful sentiment. The crane, a symbol of hope and healing, holds the promise that for every 1,000 cranes that are folded, a wish will come true. Hoping to share this magic with as many as possible, Reeve began attaching her cranes to beautifully decorated cards that could be shared. Not long after she began, the mission found a name: Cranes of Hope. Now, five years later, Susan Lombardi, who worked as a cancer care nurse navigator at Abbott before joining Woodwinds, has brought the organization to Woodbury’s Woodwinds Health Campus.

Once a month, breast cancer survivors, friends and families of survivors and cancer fighters, and anyone who feels compelled, meet at Woodwinds to fold cranes and make cards. The cards, which are recycled playing cards, carries a word or phrase that is unique to the vision of the artist; no two cards are alike. The cards are then signed by the artist and made available in the clinic for anyone who feels moved by them.

For Lombardi, the organization has taken on a whole new meaning. After bringing the program to Woodwinds in April of 2017, she was diagnosed with cancer in June. “I never imagined it would catch on like this, and I never imagined what it would come to mean to me,” Lombardi says. “The right cards will catch your eye when you need them. The ones that speak to me are the ones that say, ‘You’ll get through this.’”
Sandy Poeschel, a current patient at Woodwinds, says she attends because it’s a way for her to give back. Her card of choice features the message ‘Once you choose hope, anything is possible,” on a blue glittery background. “It’s not the facts, the survivor statistics that give you hope when you’re in it—it’s the belief in something greater.”

The attendance of card-making sessions averages around 30 people, and extends into the night based on requests of those wanting to join after work. Shannon Stoffel, an ambulatory manager within the oncology department at Woodwinds, estimates about 400 cards are made each session.  

Many current patients find strength in the cards, and many survivors make the cards to give back, but Lombardi points out the majority of attendees are those surrounding the current patients and survivors.

Kris Husby, who has worked within HealthEast cancer care for 10 years, points to the healing qualities of the cards for the artist. “I recently made a card that simply had ‘hope’ on it,” Husby said. “I’ve worked with so many brave patients over the years; as I was making it, I thought of all of them who impacted me through their strength and fight.”
Diana Hanson, who co-leads the group with Lombardi, has volunteered with the organization for two years. She carries the cranes in her purse wherever she goes. “My nephew is 10 and loves making them. There is something about this act that makes everyone feel connected to something bigger,” Hanson says.