Nancy Ballard wasn’t looking for another project – she was already a published author, retired businesswoman, mother of three and grandmother of three more.
But when the botanical illustrator from San Francisco was asked to donate her services to help liven up the chemotherapy rooms at El Camino Hospital’s Cancer Center, she took one glance at the drab, stiflingly sterile walls and knew she found her next calling.
“I just couldn’t let the rooms stay that way,” said Ballard, founder of the nonprofit Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo. “They were completely not conducive to healing. I had to do something.”
The hospital hosted a dedication ceremony Aug. 5 for the four redecorated rooms, thanks to Ballard and others. Bonnie J. Addario, founder of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, personally funded the project. Art.com donated wall art and framing supplies for the rooms.
Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo has redecorated 86 rooms at 10 hospitals in multiple countries.
Organizers recruit local designers and volunteers, resulting in different teams for each project. Many of the organization’s dedicated volunteers hail from the Bay Area.
MaryAnn Ho, a former lab manager and classmate of Ballard’s in their botanical illustration class, helped with the stenciling on the walls of El Camino’s examination rooms.
“We’re really impressed by Nancy’s project,” Ho said. “I’m really glad I got to help out.”
Ballard has set her sights on a number of other facilities, including a children’s hospital in El Salvador. She’s also visiting China soon.
“As long as there’s the tiniest thing I can do to make life a little better for the patients, I’ll do it,” Ballard said at the dedication ceremony. “I’ll just keep knocking on doors.”
All about the patients
Ballard has discovered that it’s no easy task informing hospital officials that their facilities need a makeover.
Research has long shown that patients’ mental health and morale are vital to their recoveries and that their environment plays a role in the healing process. Patients have an easier time maintaining their spirits when surrounded by a warm, relaxing atmosphere, as opposed to the cold, drab walls in most hospitals.
Shane Dormady, M.D., an oncologist and El Camino Hospital’s Cancer Center medical director, said he believes in the power of environment.
“My philosophy as a cancer specialist is that patients have better outcomes when their heart, mind and body are united in fighting the disease,” he said. “Guided imagery helps foster positive thoughts that in turn help the treatment.”
El Camino’s refurbished rooms have elevated the moods of everyone involved, including Amanda Cardenas, 35, a patient of Dormady’s who was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer last December and has endured 12 rounds of chemotherapy in the past week alone.
“For me, the hardest thing was always the what-ifs,” Cardenas said. “In these rooms, your mind can center, and you can ground yourself.”
El Camino staff take pride in focusing on the patient’s experience, and the remodeled rooms are a testament to the hospital’s holistic approach to patient care.
“We want patient-centered care at every turn, and this is really about the patients,” said Kimberly Beck, senior specialist for the hospital’s communications and media.
Hospital officials have high hopes for the rooms and their impact on patients.
“If you see the rooms, they emphasize life,” Dormady said. “Intense conversations happen in these rooms – talk about life or death. These rooms have the power to elevate people and keep them optimistic, which you have to do as a cancer patient.”
For more information, visit roomsthatrock4chemo.us.