On that sun-drenched summer day, the garden was the first to extend a welcome—over here, a cluster of flowers; over there, someone holding a yoga pose alongside a sculpture. Just inside, cozy armchairs beckoned, and from upstairs, the aroma of freshly prepared food came wafting down.
It made you feel as if you had somehow found your way into an oasis. What it did not resemble—at least, not at first—was a gathering place for cancer patients and their families.
And that was exactly the point.
“We decided to host this open house because we wanted visitors to immerse themselves in our home-like atmosphere,” says Hena Kon, Communications Specialist for Hope & Cope. Since 2007, the JGH Hope & Cope Cancer Wellness Centre, also known as Lou’s House, has been helping to heal souls and spirits, and, in the process, give cancer patients the inner strength to deal with the challenge of healing their own bodies.
“Unlike a hospital, which is often associated with tests and procedures, our Centre is an uplifting place,” says Ms. Kon. “Far from feeling down-hearted in the company of other cancer patients, participants appreciate how much they learn from, share with and support one another. And when they step back outside, they feel better, they feel connected, they feel motivated.”
This ultimate objective was the clear yet unobtrusive focus of the open house on July 6, which served as a celebration of the Centre’s 10th anniversary. Staff and volunteers mingled informally with curious visitors and newcomers, who joined the many patients (or former patients) who are members of the Centre, plus their families, friends and caregivers.
A range of activities planned throughout the day introduced the public to a sampling of the complementary therapies that have been offered in the past decade.
With the assistance of registration volunteers, patients within two years of their cancer diagnosis design a wellness plan customized to their individual needs and interests. They are not held to a rigorous schedule—while certain activities require pre-registration or an appointment, many are also drop in. Patients rejuvenate their body and spirit, whether lounging in one of the Centre’s cozy living rooms or enjoying the luxury of a massage; stimulating their creativity in a jewelry-making class or choral session; or invigorating themselves through movement in the fully equipped, supervised gym, or in dance or qi gong classes.
All this under the experienced guidance of staff and volunteers, who are on hand to help patients heal beyond the comfort of the Centre’s four walls—in their daily life, in their community. “We teach participants the importance of not becoming overextended,” says Anouline Sintharaphone, the Centre’s Exercise Program Coordinator, who joined the team in 2009. “Particularly when dealing with the side-effects of their treatment, patients learn to respect their bodies so that they can manage their energy and stave off fatigue.”
Stress-management workshops also help prepare agitated patients to withstand the rigours of treatment and cope with their anxiety, says Ron Grossman, a volunteer instructor with the Centre for eight years. He explains that patients take the time to discover, for instance, which relaxation breathing techniques presented in class work especially well for them, and practice these at home. When it comes time for their treatment in hospital, they’ll apply what they’ve learned and feel more calm.
Hope & Cope’s Wellness Centre, Ms. Kon notes, is a hospital-affiliated centre, and works closely with the oncology team at the JGH Segal Cancer Centre. As such, the Centre offers evidence-based and complementary rather than alternative therapies. Patients affected by cancer in the greater Montreal area, regardless of their treating hospital, are welcome to use the free, fully-bilingual program.
The mood was decidedly festive as organizers served an anniversary cake, a sweet celebration also of the 36th year of Hope & Cope. “You wouldn’t imagine that there would be laughter, but there is laughter here,” says Marcelle Kecman, Wellness Centre Manager. “Our participants have found a space where they learn to live each and every day of their lives to the fullest.”
Hope & Cope’s Cancer Wellness Centre is located on Cote-Sainte Catherine Road, corner Lavoie. To learn more, contact the Centre at 514-340-3616 or visit hopeandcope.ca.