'A place where you can escape for a little while'

Cancer survivors Jodi LeFave and Al Sullivan view Journey Room.

By Theresa Hawkesworth

“A place where you can escape for a little while –  to read, relax or talk to someone who has gone through something similar.”

That’s how cancer patient Jodi Lefave describes the Journey Room at South Shore Regional Hospital, which officially opened Oct. 30, 2015. The space was designed for cancer patients, families and caregivers to help them find comfort, support, information and resources throughout their cancer journey. Lefave suggested the name, Journey Room, after reflecting on her own experience with cancer and the importance of not having to go through it alone.

That’s something that resonated with other patients, including cancer survivor and caregiver Al Sullivan, who has been a driving force behind the project. His own journey started 10 years ago when his wife, Anne, was diagnosed with leukemia. A year later, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The following year, Anne underwent her second round of cancer treatment. During this time, Sullivan learned first-hand that cancer care is about more than chemotherapy and surgery.

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s scary and  unfamiliar territory. You have lot of questions,” he said.  “We hope this space will create a support network where we can encourage, mentor and support each other.”

The Journey Room will offer programs and services that can help patients feel better, reduce anxiety and stress, and manage the side effects of treatments. There will be hairdressing services for wig care, and hat and head-scarf selections, as well as a variety of introductory therapeutic services such as Reiki, chair massage, yoga, and healing and therapeutic touch.

In 2012, the David Atkinson Memorial Bonspiel for Cancer committee teamed up with the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore in support of the Journey Room.

“That was a marriage made in heaven,” said Sullivan.  

The foundation raised a large portion of the $230,000 that has been committed towards the project, with $145,000 of that coming from a 10-hour live radiothon held in February 2014. With more than 1,000 individual, organization and corporate donors, the project has had widespread support from the community.

“This is clearly something that is important to this community and to our supporters,” said Trudy Johnson, chair of the Health Services Foundation.

In addition to the creation of the Journey Room, this project involved a new space for the cancer patient navigator, a more private waiting area for the chemotherapy clinics and an upgraded oncology pharmacy.

The Sullivans, who feel they have been given a new lease on life, are now ready to take the next step on their journey. They will be part of the team of hospitality hosts who will volunteer in the Journey Room, supporting patients, families and caregivers.

“Big things come in small packages. This room is 260 square feet of love, compassion and care-giving,” Al Sullivan said.