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The Wellness Center

Every day on my way to work I would pass this stately white and brick building in a neat, yet somewhat older suburban town in Northern New Jersey. The sign on the building said it was a "Wellness Center," the cars in the lot at so early an hour told me it was busy. Even at the end of my workday, this Wellness Center still had a full parking lot. So busy, all day. Even on weekends! What is going on in this white and brick two-story center? What types of people go there? What kind of illnesses do they have? Are people really getting well at the Wellness Center? With so many questions and so few answers, I decided to work my curiosity into an assignment and do some research about this Center. You see, I am a newspaper reporter covering stories in your typical suburban towns; just ordinary, mundane stories, nothing challenging, enlightening or exciting. Of course, my interest was peaked and the following is what I discovered inside the Wellness Center. I invited myself in and spoke to their director, Anthony. I stated I might want to write a story about the Center once I found out what they did there. Anthony invited me in and said he would welcome us to do a public interest story about the Center, for here is where people with medical problems are made well again. The Wellness Center is a converted two story commercial building that currently treats people with cancer. The inside environment is bright and clean. All treatments are intravenous (IV) and the prescriptive medications used are what we know or call chemo-therapy…those essential drug cocktails, most proven, some experimental, in man's quest to eradicate this scourge of the 20th century. Most treatments are received in a large area seating twelve patients in special, comfortable chairs receiving their IV medications, with physicians, nurses and medical technicians always available.

Soft music or television is always available, as are beverages and light refreshments. This environment is conducive to dialogue among the patients with the swapping of stories about their lives before and since their illnesses. Many times doctors and nurses join the conversation: hair loss after chemo; loss of appetite at times; weight drop during treatments; ulceration of the mouth and throat; nutrition by IV drip. Among these discussions are always a myriad of obvious questions from the "new" patients. Meanwhile, the Center staff and the "old time" patients continually stress the benefits of ones spiritual beliefs and unassailable faith to survive the oft time trauma of cancer and the aftermath of chemotherapy. Patients are encouraged to have open discussions with their medical staff people and ask questions when they do not understand something. Most important is to consider this (cancer) ailment as a temporary detour and patients with cancer should continue to plan their future as though their illnesses had not occurred. And never-never-never give up hope! I discovered a varied mixture of people, from all walks of the social scale, with one thing in common: they all have or had cancer. In this group setting (of course private IV treatments are available), dialogue and discussions are encouraged to allay patient fear and stress while always emphasizing hope and wellness.

I found that treatments are more than just IV medication and more than medical professionals examining patients in small, cold rooms. Compassion reigns at the Wellness Center, with doctors and nurses often sitting among the patient groups, trading personal narratives, giving reports about new cancer treatments and yes, talking about success stories: patients cured of the dreaded disease, for years, without recurrences. Straight talk also abounds about cancer awareness and grief issues. However, the prevalent attitude here is that cancer is not an end, but an opportunity for all of us to serve others. With a collection of inspirational material and a concerned staff, patients at the Center are continually imbued with staff/patient support, encouragement, awareness, resources and practical information, for themselves and their families. Thousands of patients have been treated at the Center, which operates 7 days per week. When patients are unable to attend treatments at the Center, doctors and nurses have been known to go to patients' homes to infuse the medication and give words of encouragement to those with low spirits. Additionally, through intervention by caring employees and support from various cancer agencies, patients are provided transportation, when needed, to the Center for their treatments.

Support services at the Center abound and include Medicare and medical insurance reimbursements; financial assistance; transportation; ancillary items, such as wigs, clothing and make-up; assistance at home; links to the American Cancer Society and their vast wealth of informational knowledge. I discovered that being a cancer patient involves so very much at a time when their spirits are stretched to the limits!

Between treatment courses and even when chemo courses are completed and patients are into remission, the sharing and the bonding among patients continues. I've been told of developing relationships and friendships that have continued outside the treatment center environment, long after medical treatments are completed. Former patients continue to dialogue and see each other for social contact. Former patients even return to the Center regularly and bring home made food items for staff and current patients to enjoy, along with their personal success stories in surviving their medical problems. I learned that the Center staff continues to assist former patients and their families with medical questions and Medicare/insurance inquiries long after treatments have stopped. A truly accessible place, the Center has become a welcome umbrella for those people in the midst of a medical storm.

I did "run" the story about this wonderful Wellness Center and discovered for myself and also from readers' responses that with hope, belief, a sense of humor to lighten the heart and a dedicated staff as exists at the Center, that better days await those with cancer and the present and immediate future are optimistic times for curing and beating this dreaded illness. Personally, I say kudos to those individuals at this wonderful facility and my hope is that this story may help those in medical need seek and find a genuine healthcare facility in their neighborhood as I found at the Wellness Center.

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