When former State Senator Carol Ronen was diagnosed with breast cancer over a decade ago, she and her doctors decided a combination of radiation and chemotherapy would be the most effective road to recovery. While undergoing treatment, Ms. Ronen found comfort and support at Evanston’s Heartwood Center, a holistic health-care center for the body, mind and spirit.
Ms. Ronen said the acupuncture she received from Heartwood’s owner Nancy Floy
was invaluable and she believed all women facing cancer should have access to alternative healthcare.
Fully aware many women do not have the financial means to afford alter
native treatments, Ms. Ronan and Ms. Floy worked together to receive a grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health and in 2004 the Heartwood Foundation Women and Cancer Program was launched.
Today, the Women and Cancer Program (WCP) is a thriving nonprofit organization with clinics and practitioners located throughout Chicagoland from Evanston to Oak Park to Beverly. Last year, the program provided over 250 direct care service hours to patients.
“Thanks to the guidance of one of our past board members, YWCA Evanston/Northshore’s CEO Karen Singer, we took steps to expand beyond Evanston and into the broader community,” said Ms. Floy. “With over 10 locations in the Chicago area, we are now reaching all ethnicities and all income levels.”
The program provides free integrative therapies, classes and educational symposiums to lower income-women. Participants receive six free sessions of acupuncture, massage and psychotherapy. Classes in tai chi, yoga, meditation and nutrition are also offered. A customized treatment plan is prepared for each participant to help address the unique physical, spiritual and mental challenges that often accompany a cancer diagnosis.
“There is no secret formula for surviving cancer,” said Dickelle Fonda, a psychotherapist, a WCP board member and a cancer survivor for 23 years. “For every woman it is different and very personal, but there is a real benefit to complementary care.”
After Ms. Fonda was diagnosed with breast cancer and knew what kind of medical treatment she would undergo, she looked for supplemental care.
“I used acupuncture, homeopathy and massage therapy to strengthen my immune system,” she said.
For other people, going through radiation or chemotherapy, alternative care can help minimize the side effects of traditional treatments such as nausea, insomnia and joint pain. Meditation and psycho-therapy are also used to address anxiety and fear.
Like Ms. Ronen and Ms. Floy, Ms. Fonda believes all women should have access to this type of care.
“Even if you have health insurance, most of these helpful therapies are not covered and that is a real travesty,” said Ms. Fonda.
State Representative Robyn Gabel is also a WCP board member and helped to secure a $25,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health this year.
“Women who are uninsured or underinsured or low income have difficulties finding support during cancer treatment,” said Ms. Gabel. “The WCP provides services for these women, greatly improving their quality of life and their ability to sustain the chemotherapy or radiation they need to fight the disease. It is truly a miraculous program for many.”
The money received from the grant is being used to present four educational symposiums on risk reduction for breast cancer. The symposiums are free to the public. The first seminar will be held on May 2 from 1-3:00 p.m.at the Evanston Heartwood Center, 1818 Dempster St. and will cover exercise, nutrition and living joyfully.
Erin Chrusciel, an Evanston resident and a current participant in the program said she is grateful for the services she receives from the WCP.
“My husband and I have had financial trouble due to high medical costs,” said Ms. Chrusciel. “When I heard these services would be free to me it was truly mind-boggling.”
Ms. Chrusciel is receiving acupuncture treatments and has been participating in tai chi lessons, but said her experience with WCP has also been about feeling supported and empowered.
“When you have cancer, it is easy to forget you are a whole person,” said Ms. Chrusciel. “The doctors are treating the cancer and you almost feel like you are the cancer. The people at Heartwood make me feel better. They teach me to take proactive measures to stay healthy and remind me to care for the whole person that I am.”
More information about the program and upcoming free events are available at www.HeartwoodWomenandCancer.org.