Spotlight On... Faye's Light

Free services to cancer patients sounded like a pipe dream, until the founder of Faye’s Light made it happen.

Vicky with Tracie, a sarcoma patient, at the 6th Annual Walk for Faye’s Light

Vicky (right) and Tracie, a sarcoma patient who lost her foot to the disease, at the 6th Annual Walk for Faye’s Light. Tracie covered the 3-mile distance in her wheelchair.

Vicky Weis was a personal trainer, aromatherapist and owner of a day spa just outside Chicago when her mother, Faye, was diagnosed with lung cancer. For 13 months, Weis was Faye’s caretaker, providing the physical, emotional and spiritual support that helped to make her mother’s final days comforting and peaceful.

But as Faye’s life was ending in 1995, Weis’ was just beginning. She’d learned how much impact the right care can have on the lives of people dealing with cancer, and she began to think about providing her services for free. Taking a leap, Weis sold her spa and partnered with a local hospital and volunteer spa practitioners to deliver free massage, reiki, skincare and nailcare services to outpatient and hospitalized patients, often at their bedsides, one day a week.

Faye’s Light was born soon thereafter, when Weis applied for status as a not-for-profit organization, going full-time with her services. In 2009, Faye’s Light received a remarkable donation: a 1,200-square-foot space for cancer patients to receive comfort and treatment in a warm and loving atmosphere.

In six years, Faye’s Light volunteers have performed 7,000 services to about 1,000 clients—and not charged a single penny.

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How did your caretaking experience with your mother inspire Faye’s Light?
After Mom was diagnosed, I noticed how people would back off from her. They didn’t know what to do, how to touch her. It was really about their fears. We’d come home from a chemo treatment and I’d massage her hands and feet and do her nails, and she’d start to feel better. Her energy would improve and she’d relax. After she died, I realized that I didn’t want her journey to have been for nothing. We took our efforts to the hospital, and the spiritual connection was the same. People would wait for me, to cry, to tell me their stories. It was all so much bigger than what I’d even intended. It felt like the universe was letting me know that this was a gift from my mother.
What’s the facility like?
It’s located in an industrial-but-nice area in East Hazel Crest, Illinois. When we moved in, it was a gutted office space. We now have five treatment rooms, three restrooms and a lovely kitchen. It’s very peaceful and comfortable. You can feel the atmosphere shift as you walk up the sidewalk.
How do you find good volunteers?
Of our 27 volunteers, most have been with me for years and are very experienced. I explain to them that there are things we don’t talk to clients about: personal beliefs, ego, religious advice—none of that belongs here. We’re here to give unconditional love. Right now we’re able to provide about 100 services a month.
Do former clients ever become volunteers?
They do! Pat is 70 years old, and she received eight months of treatment from us five years ago. She comes in almost every Thursday to fetch coffee, get laundry and just talk to people. We have a client in her fifth year with us who suggested we have our own organic garden and wanted to be a part of the effort. Our property owner gave us a 16-by-24-foot space and prepped the ground. It’s our first summer growing organic produce! I give clients samples to take home.
Who are your clients and what do they usually experience at your place?
Our clients are 99% women, and about 80% have breast cancer. All start with one service per week during their active treatment time, usually 10 to 12 months. Most receive massage (with a doctor’s permission), reiki or manis/pedis. We also do art, meditation, yoga, hypnosis and sound therapy.
Even with a donated space, there are costs involved. How do you manage?
Finances are definitely the most challenging aspect. Most of our money comes from our fundraising events. However, we’re blessed with personal donations as well. I’m the only paid employee so I wear 20 hats, and we rely on word-of-mouth, our website and social networking to get the word out. There’s no doubt, if the money stopped, I’d have to stop. But you don’t worry and you trust.
Do you think of Faye’s Light as a model for other day spas that want to give back?
Absolutely. Many people told me we would fail because we weren’t charging anything. But I want day spa owners to understand: You have the capability to do this on any scale—maybe two big days a year, maybe once a month. It builds great community awareness and loyalty. We’re creating a manual to teach everyone how to do this. Faye’s Light isn’t alternative medicine, we’re complementary medicine. We just show up for people and give them what my mother gave me: unconditional love.