Not long ago, a patient at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) confessed to the institute’s Wellness-Survivorship Center manager, Shelley White, that she accidentally missed her radiation appointment. The patient had spent the day going from appointment to appointment at the Wellness Center. She enjoyed herself so thoroughly in the Wellness Center that she simply forgot she had a radiation session scheduled for that day.
And maybe that is the point. Patients with cancer do, of course, benefit from the life-saving traditional treatments HCI provides. But perhaps the many activities available in the Wellness-Survivorship Center can help people living with cancer to remember that there’s a whole lot of life to enjoy along their journeys. The center’s multifaceted offerings are intended to promote physical and emotional well-being and a sense of balance for people diagnosed with cancer and for their loved ones.
The center provides a broad range of healing modalities for cancer survivors, their loved ones and their caregivers. Shelley began developing the program after attending a survivorship conference in 2006. Inspired by the ideas she heard there, she met with the Institute’s extensive social work team to identify what skills each person could bring to a wellness-based center. Social workers and medical personnel began to poll patients as to what they’d like to see. She researched what the top cancer centers around the country were offering.
They started small, with a once-a-week mind-body skills class. Over the years the center has added acupuncture, a full compliment of fitness classes (including yoga), poetry writing, art projects with their artist-in-residence, gardening club, hypnosis, healthy cooking classes, and many more services. Shelley believes that HCI’s Wellness-Survivorship Center provides the most extensive on-site complementary cancer care in the country.
Acupuncture is one of the center’s most popular services. Like the center, the acupuncture program started small—once a week on Fridays. By 2011, acupuncture appointments were booked out five months in advance. That’s when the center hired Annie Budhathoki, L.Ac. to offer full-time acupuncture services. Shelley read me one of the many testimonials for the Wellness-Survivorship Center’s services, from a patient who’s also a physician. “Acupuncture has changed my life,” he wrote. “The services at the Wellness Center are unparallelled.”
Another unique offering is the artist-in-residence program. Led by Jorge Rojas aka “the art guy,” the program gives patients a much-needed respite from the often-stressful regimen of cancer treatment. “When they’re doing something that uses their creativity, it takes their minds off their illness, and off the depression or anxiety or anger,” he says. “Your ability to heal, I think, increases significantly.” The art program is supported by a Livestrong grant. You can watch a short documentary about the program’s first year here.
Shelley believes the center’s programs are especially effective when survivors and caregivers participate together. And members of HCI’s staff and medical team are welcome to attend classes or partake of services as well. Caring for someone with cancer can be many things—heart-rending, fulfilling, transformative among them—but compassion fatigue is real. Offering services to those who walk beside the cancer survivors is very much in keeping with HCI’s mission of providing comprehensive care.
Shelley cites a very supportive administration for the center’s extraordinary growth—although from my observation, Shelley’s inspiration and commitment are the main fuel for the center’s ever-expanding reach. Before working at HCI, she worked at the YWCA, supporting survivors of domestic abuse. During that time, she volunteered at Cancer Wellness House and HCI. “I loved it,” she says. While she also loved helping families in abusive situations, she felt she had the skills to make a bigger difference in the cancer community. “People facing mortality are facing their biggest, most challenging place. There are always ways to get better, even if your body doesn’t heal. In the Wellness-Survivorship Center, we give people an opportunity to heal relationships, to heal spiritually and to create a sense of balance with the challenges they are facing.”
When asked what inspires her most about her work, Shelley admits it’s hard to narrow down. “I’m thrilled to be able to provide patient-centered services. I get to help create programs that patients want and need. I love to collaborate and make people’s wishes happen.”
Stay tuned for upcoming articles that focus on some of the Wellness-Survivorship Center’s programs.
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