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Sunshine Room – an Oasis for Cancer Patients - turns 10!

You can feel the warmth, the caring and the positive energy flowing from the Sunshine Room even before entering the space. For the last 10 years cancer patients and their families, more than 100 a week, have been greeted by a larger-than-life painting of a sunflower and a warm and inviting welcome by one of the Sunshine Room’s 75 volunteers.

“The Sunshine Room is intended as an oasis for cancer patients and their families – a refuge from the clinical environment of cancer treatment and tests associated with cancer treatment,” said Gail Ellsworth, volunteer coordinator, Palliative Care and the Sunshine Room, at Capital Health. It’s a place for patients and families to put their feet up and relax, or experience a relaxing therapy such as massage or reflexology, free of charge.”

The room is a bright and cheerful yellow with a comfortable sofa, and a couple of arm chairs for reading, relaxing or visiting with family, friends or fellow patients. Within the space, there is a private area where volunteer licensed therapists provide complementary services including: massage therapy, reflexology, therapeutic touch, reiki, and healing touch. Licensed hair dressers also have space within the room. They volunteer their time to provide free hair services including haircuts, wigs and wig fittings, head scarves and hats.

For Janice Reede, the Sunshine Room is like a home away from home.” You’re not going to believe this,” she said, “but my kitchen at home in Yarmouth is bright yellow and the curtains have sunflowers on them. I come here every day after my treatment.”

sunshine2013pic2Janice, an active and positive 68 year old, was diagnosed with a rare cancer in March 2012. She had surgery in June and has been travelling to Halifax, by shuttle, each Sunday since the beginning of January 2013 for radiation treatment. She has radiation therapy Monday through Friday and returns home on Friday evenings. Her treatment is scheduled to be complete by mid February.

Janice read about the Sunshine Room in the summer and decided she’d check it out while in Halifax. “I was amazed,” she said. “Hair care, massage therapy, reflexology, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, Healing touch – all of these wonderful therapies available --- and all of them free. I’ve tried most of them and they are super.”

The volunteers are all very helpful and nice and many of them are cancer survivors, so they’ve been where I am and they know how it feels.”

Denise Jennex, a two-time cancer survivor, has been a volunteer since the Sunshine Room opened 10 years ago. “I love it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to volunteer somewhere and this was exactly the kind of thing that I was interested in. It’s been wonderful, so many lovely people and I understand where they are coming from.”

A certified Reflexologist, Robyn Harding has been volunteering her services twice a month for the last eight years. She, like many, has family members who have had cancer and she wanted to give back. “It’s so wonderful to see someone come into the room stressed and leave after having one of the complementary therapies peaceful and inspired. It’s a beautiful thing.”

The Sunshine Room marks its 10th birthday this year in June. In the last five years since Gail assumed the reigns as coordinator, the Sunshine Room has expanded its offerings to include yoga, meditation and art therapy. All sessions are available to cancer patients and families on a drop-in basis and they are free. All supplies are provided (yoga mats, paints, etc.). “Many patients come from outside the city and it’s enough for them to bring themselves,” said Gail. “The services and the respite we offer is about people having some time for themselves and being allowed to express themselves with others, who are on a similar journey, in whatever way they choose.

“Our job is to help people feel better where they are now, and we’re getting a lot of positive feedback from cancer patients and their families. We want to keep that positivity going.”

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The Sunshine Room is located on the 11th floor of the Victoria Building, Victoria General Site, QEII Health Sciences Centre. It is open 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday- Friday.

The Sunshine Room was the vision of cancer patient, Helen Densmore Cleary, who believed that patients deserved to be surrounded by compassion and support. Helen, together with support from Cancer Care Nova Scotia, the Capital Health Cancer Care Program, Capital Health Volunteer Services and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre Foundation, worked to make the Sunshine Room a reality. It opened in June 2003.

The Sunshine Room is supported by a trust fund, which provides patients, their families and others with an opportunity to support it. Ongoing opportunities are also available to anyone interested in volunteering.