About halfway into her six-month treatment regimen, Rhonda Peterson arrived on schedule at the Village Pointe Cancer Center for her weekly chemotherapy treatment.
Peterson usually left feeling tired and fatigued. But today she left with a renewed sense of self-confidence, a smile on her face and sporting a beautiful head of new, silky blonde hair.
Peterson’s new appearance and outlook came about as a result of a new service offered at The Nebraska Medical Center’s Village Pointe Cancer Center called the Life Renewal Center.
The Life Renewal Center, which opened this past spring, is a space that goes beyond the clinical care of patients by allowing for a more holistic approach to cancer care. The Center is dedicated to providing a more positive and healing experience for patients by supporting their personal and physical needs during treatment and recovery.
“Patients may experience many physical and emotional changes in their bodies while going through cancer treatment,” says Ann Yager, director of the Village Pointe Cancer Center. “The Life Renewal Center is designed to help them cope with these changes.”
The Center provides personal care services such as wig fittings, cranial and breast prosthetic fittings, oncology massages and exercise classes, as well as items such as skin care products specifically geared for people with or recovering from cancer.
When Peterson walked into the Life Renewal Center that day, a short, sassy wig sitting on the shelf quickly caught her eye. “We just knew it was her as soon as she put it on,” says her daughter, Angie Klitz.
“I loved it right away,” agrees Peterson, whose own wig had grown worn and tired-looking. “It was the perfect color, the perfect texture and the perfect cut.” But when she looked at the price tag, she quietly slipped it off and put her old wig back on.
Yager witnessed the incident from across the room. Knowing what a big difference body image can make in boosting one’s confidence and self-esteem, she was able to secure grant money provided by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to make sure Peterson left with a smile on her face and a new head of hair.
“It picked me up at a time when I was really low,” recalls Peterson. “It boosted my self-esteem and made me feel better. When you feel like you look good, you feel better.”
“This Center is a direct result of what patients told us they’d like to see as part of our cancer program,” says Yager. “These products and services are a huge convenience to our patients because normal retail products are not geared for the needs of cancer patients. We have products that can ease the side effects of treatment and make cancer patients feel good about themselves again. Providing supportive products and services like these are important components in supporting a patient’s full healing and long-term recovery process.”
The Life Renewal Center was developed from both patient input and input from Cancer Center staff, many of whom felt very passionate about the new Center. One of the results from that input was a very large wig-fitting area. “Losing your hair and getting a wig can be a very emotional time and many times women want to bring their family and friends for support,” notes Yager. “So when we built our Center, we made sure we made the wig fitting area extra large to accommodate guests.”
Bravadas, a professional wig-fitting store, provides the wig-fitting consultations and cuts so women can walk out donning hair that fits their face and style.
Massage therapy and yoga classes are available to help alleviate stress and fatigue. Massages are provided by a trained oncology therapist and are available by appointment.
Hand and foot massages were offered one day each week to patients receiving chemotherapy infusion through a grant provided by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Although the grant funding has run out, the Center is currently working to find a donor to continue funding for these very popular massages.
“The patients really love that massages are offered,” says Megan Krenzer, a licensed massage therapist trained in oncology massage therapy. “This can be a very long and anxiety-ridden day,” explains Krenzer. “Massage can be very relaxing and calming for them. It’s something for them to look forward to during their treatment.”
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health showed that massage can help boost the immune system, improve circulation, reduce stress by decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol and alleviate common side effects of cancer treatment such as pain, nausea, lymphedema, neuropathy and insomnia, says Krenzer.
Katie O’Keefe, who is undergoing treatment at the Village Pointe Cancer Center, says Megan’s visits during chemotherapy helped make her sessions more bearable. “She would turn down the lights and play some quiet music in the background,” she says. “It was very soothing. I was also having a lot of bone pain and after Megan would work on me for awhile, I would feel better for several days.”
O’Keefe has now made massage a regular part of her therapy routine and schedules a one-hour massage before every infusion treatment. “I’m a real believer in massage therapy,” she says “It’s very calming and relaxing and it’s helped me with my recovery and restoring some balance to my life.”
The Life Renewal Center became a reality due to proceeds donated by the University Hospital Auxiliary’s annual fundraiser, Kaleidoscope. “The Auxiliary really embraced this project and made it their own not only from a funding standpoint but also by providing important input and commitment throughout the design and development of the facility,” says Theresa Franco, executive director of the Cancer Care Service Line at The Nebraska Medical Center. “We are very grateful to them for their dedication to this project.”
“This Center allows us to touch our patients in many ways that we couldn’t in the past,” says Becky Stahl, a member of the University Hospital Auxiliary’s board of directors, who devoted many hours toward the project. “Through the convenience of these services, we hope that we can make the patient’s experience a more comfortable and positive one.”
Beth Reed, MD, oncologist and medical director of the Village Pointe Cancer Center, says the Life Renewal Center has been a welcome addition to the services provided to patients. “When people are happier and feeling good about themselves, that can help them tolerate therapy better,” says Dr. Reed. “Our goal is to help them get through their cancer experience in the best way possible and to be able to confidently go back to work or to the other parts of their lives.”
Peterson says she gets lots of compliments about her new “hairdo” and that restores a sense of control and empowerment in her life during a time when she often feels like she has no control.
Now when Peterson looks in the mirror, she sees a smiling face looking back at her. “Sometimes it’s the little things in life that can really lift your spirits,” she says. “My life was renewed when I put on this wig.”
Testimony that the Life Renewal Center is renewing lives.