Of course, I want the best cancer care, but I realized that the beauty of the environment where I get it is important too.

I am, like most cancer patients I know, anxious to receive the best medical care from the most knowledgeable doctors.

We drive across the state or fly across the country to get a second opinion. We study research and want access to clinical trials and the latest care even if we do not always use them.

One thing we don’t often think about is the beauty and physical aspects of where we are treated. At least I didn’t for a long time.

I was on the Patient Advisory Council for a new cancer center to be built at my local hospital. After participating in task forces in the past that accomplished nothing, I was surprised to find the architects and administration listening to our ideas.

We wanted parking close to the facility, since the present one forced us to walk a long way when we were not feeling well. We wanted all the services under one roof. In the present facility, the radiology department was in the basement, the oncology doctor’s offices on the first floor and the infusion on the third floor – well you get the idea.

Much time was wasted and energy exerted after treatments just getting from one place to another. We were stumbling over each other and wanted more space, so we did not have to crowd. I remember the horror of a nurse giving me shots in the stomach while other patients were traipsing through to get blood draws or on their way to the doctors. I was horrified and told her I wanted a private space after that.

We asked for cheery lighting instead of the dark rooms, greenery outside rather than ugly brick walls, and windows to see out while receiving infusions. We wanted private or semi-private rooms. We suggested captioning availability on every television and Wi-Fi capability in every room.

What initially surprised me was the emphasis on artwork. Two of the employees, the vice president of cancer services and the director of strategic projects would pick out the artwork and ask our opinion. We would tell them if it was too dark, too busy, or too turbulent and they would follow our suggestions.

Eventually, I began to realize how important the artwork was going to be. It affected my mood much more than I realized. As I visited other cancer centers with little or no art, I realized how the sterile atmosphere was depressing me before I even received treatment!

Jane Biehl said that the waterfall artwork adds beauty to her cancer treatment center.

The last piece of art we selected to be put in place was a beautiful waterfall tumbling down gently to a list of donors. It was placed strategically in the lobby and makes people gasp as they are drawn to it.

I was given the huge honor of representing the Patient Advisory Council at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. I was given a private tour of the gorgeous new center the day before the ceremony and left in tears at how gorgeous this center was and how profoundly the artwork impacted me.

I went back as a patient and stared at the beautiful artwork on the wall across from the chair that the patient sat in waiting for the doctor. I realized then that we need beautiful aspects too. Think about it — do we have homes with sterile walls, or do we put up pictures of family, grandchildren, pets, etc.? I cannot imagine a sterile home and now I cannot imagine a boring cancer center.

This center is truly patient-centered, and it is so much easier to go now where I am surrounded by light and beauty and space. Yes, we need the skills of medical personnel but beauty to help our spirit is important too.

After all, who does not love waterfalls?

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