Cancer Care at the Edge of Wellness

Armed with a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, Ashleigh Sharman discovers new frontiers in what aspects of wellness can achieve during her visit to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre.

Health, wellbeing and the body-mind-spirit connection are on the menu and not to be trifled with. No longer the realm simply of hippie retreats, mystics and quasi-science, wellness is indeed all around and as adaptable a concept from salon to spa, clinic to hospital, home to hotel. Yet it is its reach into the health sector where this holistic concept takes flight and put into practise at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre within Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne.

Wellness 3“Our philosophy is very much around holistic care where physical, spiritual, psychology, social, and emotional needs are of equal importance,” explains Molly Carlile, General Manager Integrated Cancer Services at Austin Health.

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Olivia Newton-John

“A holistic model assumes there are psycho-social and spiritual needs that can’t be managed with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery and those elements, of the whole person, need to be supported and nurtured with other approaches. That’s the philosophical component — that in order to care for the whole person we need to offer a suite of services that are scientifically rigorous and, when it comes to complimentary therapies, we are contributing to the scientific base.”

It is the concept of wellness that the centre believes will make all the difference to patients and their families — delivering the world’s best practice in patient-centred cancer care. The Wellness Centre provides space, alongside the Cancer Centre’s medical and research facilities, to further develop aspects of care such as relaxation techniques, music therapy, art therapy, yoga, acupuncture, healthy cooking, oncology massage and guided meditation, support groups and survivorship clinics, as well as providing education and information for patients and their families. Such best practice wellness and supportive care programs, researched from across the Globe and free of charge, are designed to complement the medical treatment provided to patients.

Wellness“It’s complex, individual, and holistic, but there are common threads that run through people’s experiences and that’s what we are trying to cater for by providing a range of options for people to feel safe with us and take control back of their lives,” says Carlile.

“You only have to know anyone who has ever been sick, that beyond the pain there is fear and concerns, and the only way to relax in that space is to have other things dealt with — both practical and psychological such as speaking with a therapist or having an oncology massage. Wellness and supportive care programs need to be the catalyst for people controlling their own outcomes. We want patients to come in and drive their own process and we are here to provide the programs that help them do that: You might want a quiet space to cry with a friend, you might want to watercolour with the artist in residence or you might want to learn how to look after someone who is sick.”

For Carlile then, wellness exists for every person no matter their diagnosis or their prognosis. Wellness is being able to achieve what it is you want to achieve, at any given time, and to feel a sense of contentment in that. The beauty in this definition of wellness is that there are no limitations, it applies to everybody.

Wellness-Therapy-1Such wellness philosophy is incorporated into all aspects of care at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre; where evidence-based therapies and programs, focusing on supporting and empowering patients and carers, are just as important as providing an opportunity to receive support and advice — all in a purpose-built haven. This tranquil and inspirational space, which trades in ‘hospital white’ with warm natural tones and finishes, actively balances the various aspects of treatment, including a combination of quiet spaces for reflection and community spaces for the sharing of ideas, experiences and support.

“We are very conscious of the environment and are lucky to have such a welcoming space. Through our arts and health care program we work hard on creating an engaging physical environment. Our regular performance program, including choir, music and dance, is about making the space feel normal and welcoming.

“Everyone who walks through the door here is scared about something. Whether it’s the first, second, or last time, there is a heightened sense of anxiety. The environment needs to acknowledge that and enable patients to feel safe within it. That’s the message and we work really hard on conveying that in a variety of ways such as regular artwork exhibitions, artwork generated by staff, or patients creating art through our ‘yarning around’ activities. In normalising the environment, they trust us,” Carlile says.

Wellness 2Aspects of wellness are, here, operating on a unique and impactful level, and it is important to acknowledge the level of training, education and research that opens the doors to its existence within a hospital framework. But the rise of wellness within the spa and public domain, however exciting and beneficial as a whole, can become dangerous when therapists cross the boundaries of what they are trained to do, what they have expert knowledge in. And this is something for all business owners to consider deeply.

“It is dangerous to be put in a place where there is an expectation of the breadth of what you are able to do as a therapist. Consider the energy from client to client. It’s a partnership so be clear of the goals of the treatment and be wary to step outside of this. Stick to what you are qualified to do and what your scope of practice is. When you step outside of that you become vulnerable and you also put the client at risk,” says Carlile who adds that it’s impossible to be qualified in everything and encourages salon, spa and clinic owners to establish business links with local wellness experts such as GPs, counsellors and nutritionists.

Wellness then is an individual journey of contentment and access to its pathways is vital for patients and clients alike. The Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre is unique in this country and plays its part as a model for the future: A future where wellness isn’t just a buzz word but a mindful extension of all of us.

Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre www.oliviaappeal.com

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