A Kinder Chemo

Fueled by one woman’s wish, an innovative program brings free spa services to hundreds of cancer patients across the U.S.

100% of funds raised through Angie’s Spa are dedicated to making in-hospital treatments free for cancer patients.

For those facing cancer, the road ahead is stressful, not to mention scary. Chemotherapy and other treatments are often accompanied by discomfort, boredom and even pain. When Angie Levy was undergoing treatments for metastatic breast cancer, she would often tell her loved ones how much easier chemotherapy would be if she could only receive spa treatments at the same time.

In November 2007, after a nine-year battle, Levy lost her fight with cancer. She was only 36 years old. Levy’s friends and family decided it was time to realize her vision of bringing a spa experience to cancer treatment centers and, in December 2008, Angie’s Spa—a not-for-profit, charitable organization funding free, in-hospital massages and other integrative medicine treatments for cancer patients—was born.

DAYSPA spoke with cancer survivor and Angie’s Spa president Kathleen Barry Conner about how the program functions, where it’s offered and how spas everywhere can start helping cancer patients in their own neighborhoods.

DAYSPA: How does Angie’s Spa work?
Our organization enables hospitals to provide free, therapeutic massage and other spa services to men and women undergoing cancer treatments. The hospitals either have massage therapists on staff through their integrative medicine centers, or they contract them out. For example, for its integrative medicine program, Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Northridge, California, brings in massage therapists who are specially certified to work with cancer patients. All our therapists have specialized oncology training and provide services on-site, in chemotherapy infusion rooms, waiting rooms and other areas deemed appropriate by the hospital. Angie’s Spa grants ensure that these services are completely free for cancer patients.

Were any hospitals doing this before Angie’s Spa?
Yes. MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City have been performing these services through their integrative medicine departments for more than 10 years. They offer therapeutic massage, acupuncture, reiki and more. Since then, many hospitals have started offering these services for a fee, usually on a sliding scale. Angie’s Spa makes sure patients receive them at no charge.

How are patients selected for services?
As long as their doctor approves massage, any patient who requests it, or is referred, can be a part of the program. As the program becomes more popular, it’s increasingly becoming part of the cancer treatment protocols at participating hospitals.

Which hospitals are currently taking advantage of this program, and are you seeking more participants?
Angie’s Spa presently funds programs at four hospitals: Northridge Hospital Medical Center; Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut; Southampton Hospital in Southampton, New York; and the MD Anderson Cancer Center. The grant application is by invite-only, and we’re currently reviewing proposals from several hospitals. So for now, we’re not seeking additional hospitals.

How do you promote and sustain the program?
Through Twitter and Facebook, hospital newsletters and word-of-mouth. We also continually add new members to our boards, and maintain close contact with our donors. Angie’s Spa is funded entirely through private donations.

What have been your most successful fundraising initiatives?
In April 2011, we held an event called “Donate Your Age,” which raised $13,000. It was an online campaign we ran in honor of what would have been Angie Levy’s 40th birthday. I think it worked so well because it was an affordable price point, and the idea of it really touched people. Some donors even added up all their family members’ ages to increase their contribution.

Day spas have also been a huge help. Naturopathica Holistic Health Spa in East Hampton, New York, recently donated a generous portion of proceeds from a day’s sales. It was a wonderful way for a spa to give back and support us. Also, Willow Spa in Santa Monica, California, and the June Jacobs Spa Collection company both donated products for a comedy event we held in Los Angeles.

Where do you find your volunteers? Are you seeking additional help?
Our board members and advisory board are 100% volunteer; we have no paid staff. We welcome volunteers to assist in day-to-day operations in areas such as marketing, fundraising and technology. We also seek volunteers to help us increase our donor database so we can continue to expand our grants to other hospitals.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the services the hospitals offer and the required oncology massage certification, we don’t have opportunities for volunteers to provide massages or other services directly to patients. Each hospital finds and hires or contracts its therapists. Angie’s Spa is not involved in this process.

But we encourage all spa professionals to seek oncology training. There are so many patients across the United States in need of these services, and any spas that have certified therapists on staff can be there to help. The most important thing spas can do is train therapists in oncology massage, and publicize these specialized offerings.

Prospective volunteers can contact Connor at kathleen@angiespa.org, or executive director Nancy Benson Berry at nancy@angiesspa.org.


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