Mind, Body and Spirit - Inside Hospital Walls

The spacious reception area with a large comfy lounge suite as its centrepiece wouldn't be out of place in a modern four star hotel. Nor would the animated hum of friendly conversation struck up among people sharing a coffee and, in the week or two before Christmas, a fruit mince pie. But the tell tale headscarfs suggest this meeting place has a purpose beyond casual friendship. and an importance now starting to be acknowledged in Australia's mainstream medical community. By Margaret Evans

The spacious reception area with a large comfylounge suite as its centrepiece wouldn't be out of placein a modern four star hotel. Nor would the animatedhum of friendly conversation struck up among peoplesharing a coffee and, in the week or two before Christmas,a fruit mince pie. But the tell tale headscarfs suggestthis meeting place has a purpose beyond casual friendship.and an importance now starting to be acknowledged inAustralia's mainstream medical community. By MargaretEvans

The warm and inviting atmosphere is at the heart ofthe Brownes Dairy Cancer Support Centre, a modern airycomplex situated in one of mainstream medicine's bastionsin Perth, the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. Occupyinga former banking chamber within the huge medical centre- at least this is one bank closure that's been warmlyreceived - the support centre was opened in Septemberand has since been swamped with interest from cancerpatients and their families.

What makes the centre different is its focus on complementarytherapies to support the mainstream chemotherapy orradiography patients are receiving just next door inthe hospital's equally new Haematology Centre whichtreats blood related cancers like leukemia and lymphoma,or the more general cancer spectrum seen in its oncologydepartment.

In its first two and a half months, the centre hasprovided well over 600 complementary therapy treatments,almost entirely by word of mouth - and is now regularlycalled up by nursing staff in other hospitals keen toextend the palette of therapies available to their cancerpatients.

Massage based therapies dominate with 75 sessionswith visiting volunteer therapists pencilled in eachweek. Patients have a choice of Reiki, craniosacraltherapy, reflexology, acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga,chi breathing, Ki energy treatment, Qigong, creativevisualisation, meditation and beauty therapy. Counsellingsessions are also offered.

The centre also provides easily accessible informationincluding two new Internet linked computers to meetits primary aim of encouraging cancer patients to becomeinformed about their own condition and actively involvedin their treatment. It operates as a free drop in centreavailable to all cancer patients and extends its warminformality to carers and partners.

The level of acceptance among patients and practitionersis an overwhelming vote of confidence in the visionof Dr David Joske, the driving force behind the dualcentres. The head of Sir Charles Gairdner's Departmentof Haematology was recently awarded a Certificate ofExcellence by the Health Consumers' Council Board forhis outstanding work with people living with cancer.

The complementary therapies centre, the first of itskind in Australia, is the outcome of his firmly heldbelief that patients have an important role to playin their own treatment.

"It calls for a shift away from the mindset that thedoctor is God. It is an attitude which is dying, butunfortunately it's still there to some extent. As aresult, there is a neglect of the emotional needs ofpeople with cancer," Dr Joske said.

"My philosophy instead is that if someone has a cancer,then that person and I work out together what we'regoing to do about it. I aim to mutually set goals withpatients that need to be realistic in terms of my knowledgeand their expectations of what they're going to getout of life."

The centre affirms the burgeoning popularity of complementarytherapies among Australians supported by research whichshows 80 to 90 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancerseek out some form of treatment on their own.

Dr Joske believes that when a doctor fails to acknowledgethe patient is also seeking out other forms of therapy,it sets up a conflict in the patient's mind every timethey visit the surgery. "And conflict can't be helpful."

Although he freely admits some patients resist becominginvolved in their own treatment program - "they wantto be told what to do" - most respond to his urging"to read, ask questions, get involved and most of allnot be passive."

"It's my growing belief that the more active theyare about their treatment, the more it may influencea positive result."

Another of the centre's key aims is simply to provideaccess for cancer patients to try a range of complementarytherapies many may be discovering for the first time."We don't judge whether the treatment works, we simplyaccept that people can and should be able to try thesetherapies for themselves," said Dr Joske.

He hopes clinical trials to validate the effectivenessof complementary therapies on cancer patients can beundertaken in the future, "but that's likely to be downthe track".

Meanwhile the booking sheets for each of the 28 volunteertherapists, many who give up a half a day at a timeonce or twice a week for free treatment sessions, speakvolumes for the centre's level of acceptance among Perthpeople.

All have given an undertaking not to advertise theirinvolvement to avoid the medico-legal minefield of apparentvalidation. Most seem to be driven by the desire toincrease awareness of their speciality - and maybe justto give something back. Several are recovering cancerpatients themselves. At the same time, patients canmake their own appointments with them outside the centreon a normal commercial basis.

Centre coordinator David Oliver, who began his ownjourney of discovery into complementary therapies witha health food shop in Denmark back in the '80s, typifiesthe positive, cheery nature of the centre and its approach.

"I love it - for me it's a dream come true. I believemy background in complementary therapies and businesshas prepared me for this moment. And I love people,which helps," he laughs.

As an early Christmas present he was told his positionwould soon become full time, thanks to the support ofmajor sponsor, Brownes Dairy. Funding from Brownes andother sponsors, mainly the Cancer Foundation of WesternAustralia and the Leukemia Foundation, also allows therapysessions to be provided free of charge, Internet connection,a comprehensive library of books and even four litresof milk a week - "Hilo of course!"

David Oliver sees the centre's appeal to carers asanother of its great strengths. "We've had guys whowere sleeping on the wards while their wives or partnerswere receiving chemotherapy. Now they're able to comein here and have a cup of coffee and a chat. We wantedit to feel more like a home and we've always got two"meet and greet" volunteers on at any time during theday to help people with their questions and concerns."

Perhaps the last word on the Cancer Support Centrebelongs to its instigator, Dr Joske: "A longer termgoal is to substantiate that we have improved the qualityof life for Western Australians who have been into thecentre. I don't know how we're going to do that yet,but I do know we're meeting a huge gap in satisfyingthe emotional needs of people with cancer."

The Cancer Support Centre isopen from Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm in E Blockof Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
Ph (08) 9346 7630. (It will reopen after the Christmasbreak on January 19)