Spa Giving: Spa Days for Cancer Patients

Visiting the spa was among Daphne Evans’ greatest comforts throughout her struggles with cancer. Now, this survivor helps patients across the country experience the same benefits, firsthand.

In the battle against cancer, there are many warriors. But none have quite the style of three-time survivor Daphne Evans, who is devoted to helping female cancer patients indulge in the luxury of spa days—all-expenses paid.

Evans—who has beat ovarian, breast and spinal cancer over the past 14 years—launched the Heaven’s Door Cancer Foundation in 2005 to fund therapeutic spa days at such elite oases as Safety Harbor Resort and Spa in Safety Harbor, Florida; Ravella Resort and Spa in Lake Las Vegas, Nevada; and Bellagio Spa in Dallas.

“I don’t ask spas for a handout,” says the San Francisco resident and law firm manager. Rather, Evans augments Heaven’s Door grants and donations with her own salary to finance participants’ spa treatments.

Beyond being a spa service fairy, she lends emotional support to cancer patients, employing lots of compassion—and some tough love, too.

“My girls call me ‘mother hen,’ because I’ll fuss at them when they pity themselves,” Evans says. “I tell them, ‘I know where you’ve been, and we’ve got to do something to get your spirits up.’ It’s encouraging one woman at a time, and then they end up encouraging one another.”

When asked about her foundation’s trademarked emphasis on providing Diva Care, Evans explains, “I call my girls divas. I call myself a diva. I love fashion, I love wearing stilettos, and I learned, it’s not only about getting pampered to keep your spirits raised, but also dressing up more and taking great care of yourself in every way possible.” —Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

DAYSPA: At what point in your own battle with cancer did you decide you wanted to provide spa services for other patients?

Daphne Evans: It was eight years ago, when I ended up having to go for a double mastectomy. I got home that day after the surgery and stood in front of the mirror and bawled my eyes out. It’s like an amputation, it really is. Because our girls—that’s what I call them—are part of us. The next day, I decided to go to the spa, and it made me feel very feminine again, so I ended up going back every day that week! I thought, if this makes me feel this good, then it must be something that can help other women who are suffering, too.

How can women get in touch with you about setting up services?

Heaven’s Door is a virtual, national non-profit, and patients reach me through the website. When they email me, I send them my criteria: You have to be in the middle of your battle—whether you’ve recently had surgery or have experienced a recurrence of cancer. You have to be receiving either chemo or radiation treatment. Or, you have to have come into remission within the past year. Then I set up a time to talk with them, find out their location and start researching available spa experiences in their neighborhoods.

Are your clients also breast cancer survivors?

These women have all types of cancer. I have a girl in stage four of endenocarcinoma: cancer of the bone, liver, brain and lung. I get a lot of women going through ovarian and uterine cancer, but I do hear from breast cancer patients most often.

What are your criteria for participating spas?

Right now they’re pretty much location-based, and the spa has to be high-end. I check out the facility first if I can, or else I take a virtual tour to get a sense of its interior. I want it to be very aesthetically pleasing to the eye and nose; a lovely place for the women to go. It’s not that I’m a snob, but these patients are going through a lot, so I want them to have a good experience in a pretty place.

How do you select the spa treatments to gift?

I find something based upon what the woman has told me she needs. Women in remission are fine with most spa treatments. But there are women who are ultra-sensitive, who may have to wait until after their chemo because having a massage, even a gentle one, can cause nausea. So I base their spa therapies on how they feel and on what their doctor says is OK. If a spa doesn’t have oncology services, I’ll ask if they have pregnancy massage—most often, it’s gentle enough. But first I talk to the spa owner and explain to her, ‘I’m sending in a girl who’s going through this, that and the other.’ I know a little about oncology massage, so I’ll ask them, ‘Hey, do you offer manual lymphatic drainage or myofascial release? Do you have a mineral bath or nice Jacuzzi?’ I’ll sometimes suggest a pampering body application of aromatherapy lotion, which is less intense than a standard Swedish massage. I do plenty of research to make sure treatments are suitable for these women.

You’re giving so much of yourself—what do you get from providing these experiences?

Sometimes I will come home to flowers on my doorstep from women saying thank you. I get emails from women after they’ve spent their day up to their neck in bubbles or whatever, and that’s what it’s about. It’s about keeping the beauty of the soul alive and helping these patients feel that they’re women of worth.