DESIGN FOR LIVING
When this patient saw her doctor’s dismal cancer treatment rooms, she knew just the cure
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’.”