Program volunteers bring books, cards, and games to help patients pass the time or they just give patients an opportunity to have someone to talk to. In addition to the lay volunteers, Cancer Wellness Connections offers diversions provided by professional care partners with specific skill sets.
A personal trainer, for example, may give a talk about fitness while patients are receiving their treatments. The trainer may instruct patients in some gentle movement exercises they can do while sitting in the infusion chair that may help circulate the medication in the body.
A manicurist may be scheduled for some days in the month. “Women in treatment lose their hair, they lose their eyebrows… it’s hard to feel feminine. So we have people come in and give them manicures with formaldehyde-free products. They may not be the best manicures they’ve ever had, but the women are able to feel pampered and cared for,” said Betsy Twohig-Barrett, president and executive director of Cancer Wellness Connections.
Although the professional care partners receive a stipend, they must complete each hospital’s rigorous volunteer and employee clearance process.
Expanding Care Partner Services
Over the past few years the organization has expanded the diversion activities provided, incorporating some types of massage therapy. Although the effect massage might have on medication administration is a concern, Ms Twohig-Barrett says that unless there is a direct contraindication with a particular medication, the staff finds that most patients do well with a massage.
The type of massage offered is different from other massage techniques for cancer patients as these are performed right in the infusion chair while the patients are receiving treatment. Patients are offered a foot massage, a scalp massage, or to have their shoulders loosened up with massage, and the patients love it.
Children participating in Better Day Buddies activities are not offered massage, but their parents can get a mini massage. Ms Twohig-Barrett explains that when one person in the family is seriously ill the entire family feels the impact. So they try to emphasize to the parents the need for self-care.
Reiki is another newly introduced diversion. Several Reiki masters work with the organization to deliver the relaxing technique. It is so popular that the oncology staff will try to schedule a patient to accommodate the Reiki visit. A nurse manager at a participating facility said that anything the group can do to ensure patients come in and stay on top of their treatment is an asset.
If it makes a trip to the infusion room more palatable, then it helps everyone. Sometimes nursing staff will inquire about when a care partner such as a Reiki therapist will be in because the Reiki calms a patient who is anxious. The patient’s remaining appointments are then set up to coincide with the times the Reiki therapist will be at the infusion center.