When this pa­tient saw her doc­tor’s dis­mal can­cer treat­ment rooms, she knew just the cure

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - JU­LIANA LABIANCA

The mis­sion to brighten can­cer pa­tients’ treat­ment vis­its.

IN 2011, NANCY BAL­LARD went for a rou­tine check-up that turned into some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary. At 60, the re­cently re­tired en­tre­pre­neur had just com­pleted her mas­ter’s de­gree in botan­i­cal illustration. In fact, she was car­ry­ing a paint­ing of a plant she’d done when she ar­rived at her doc­tor’s of­fice. “It would be great if we had art­work like that for our chemo­ther­apy rooms,” the nurse said. Bal­lard asked to see one.

She was shocked by what she found. The walls were drab and bare, and the paint was chip­ping. She could tell where old art­work had hung be­cause of the naked nails. It was a de­press­ing room for a de­press­ing rou­tine – pa­tients teth­ered to chemo drips for per­haps sev­eral hours, of­ten with noth­ing to look at other than those sad walls.

Bal­lard didn’t have can­cer her­self, but she could sym­pa­thise with the pa­tients. “I couldn’t imag­ine how any­one could even think about get­ting healthy in a room like that,” she says. As it hap­pens, Bal­lard’s doc­tor, Dr Stephen Huf­ford, was ill with can­cer him­self, so find­ing time to dec­o­rate the rooms was low on his to-do list. So Bal­lard made it her mis­sion to brighten up the place.

She started by email­ing 20 lo­cal ­i nte­rior de­sign­ers. “I wrote, ‘ You

don’t know me. But my heart hurts af­ter see­ing th­ese rooms’,” she says. She asked each of them whether they would donate their time and money to trans­form just one of Dr Huf­ford’s rooms.

As it hap­pened, six of them knew some­one with can­cer and wrote back al­most im­me­di­ately.

Each chose a theme: the dragon­fly room, for ex­am­ple, now fea­tures bright art­work and dragon­fly wall or­na­ments, while the Venet ian has golden-hued walls and plants. Most rooms got new paint, light ­f ix­tures, art­work and fur­ni­ture. Bal­lard es­ti­mates that each room cost its de­signer about US$5000.

Dr Huf­ford was de­lighted. “All the pa­tients feel soothed by it,” he said. He even no­ticed that his own tone of voice was dif­fer­ent in the rooms and that he was able to con­nect bet­ter with his pa­tients. (Un­for­tu­nately, Dr Huf­ford died a short time af­ter all the chemo rooms were com­pleted.)

Bal­lard was so en­cour­aged by the pa­tients’ re­ac­tions that she cre­ated the non-profit ‘ Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo’ char­ity to raise money and dec­o­rate more spa­ces. Since then she has worked on 20 projects.

At one of th­ese spa­ces, Bal­lard met a wo­man who was there for the third time. “When she saw what we’d done, she said, ‘I’m gonna beat it this time. I thought I wasn’t go­ing to, but now I know I’m gonna beat it’.”

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