Painted blue and yellow with natural light streaming in, the QEII’s Sunshine Room looks more like a room you’d find in a home, not in the region’s largest healthcare facility.
Located on the eleventh floor of the Victoria Building on the QEII’s Victoria General site, the welcoming room, free of nurse call bells and intravenous poles, offers cancer patients and their families a supportive place where they can find inner peace while undergoing treatment.
“It really is a lovely spot,” says Gail Ellsworth, the Sunshine Room’s program coordinator. “The energy of the room is amazing.”
For Susan Wilson, the room was a place of solace during her treatment for breast cancer three years ago. “It was such an important part of my journey knowing there was support and comfort there if and when I needed it. I visited the Sunshine Room at every opportunity; I can’t imagine the hospital without it.”
Susan was among 75 people who gathered in June to celebrate the room’s tenth anniversary. At the celebration, she donated $180 she had collected from family, friends and colleagues, to buy a wig. Susan also used her fundraising to fill a shoebox with small gifts she found helpful when she was a cancer patient. The shoebox was a 50th birthday present she made for her co-worker, Michelle Gabriel, who was integral in keeping Susan connected with her workplace while out on medical leave over a two-and-a-half-year period. Susan filled the shoebox as a way of saying thank you to both Michelle and the Sunshine Room.
The Sunshine Room opened in June 2003, thanks in part to A. Wallace Murray. Before he died of cancer, he made a $25,000 donation to the QEII Foundation to create a support room for people undergoing cancer treatments. Today, the Sunshine Room has grown to support anywhere from five to 40 patients a day.
Barb Burke, a retired registered nurse, has been volunteering in the room since the day it opened. She is part of a team of about 70 volunteers, who spend time in the room with patients and family, providing everything from companionship to fitting wigs.
As a hospitality volunteer, Barb greets people visiting the room.
“I like to be able to put patients at ease,” she says. “They often give you a hug and leave with a smile.”
Barb remembers one cancer patient in her early 20s who walked sadly into the room. She had lost her hair and wanted a wig. But not just any wig, a red one. After finding her a long, red wig, the young woman put it on and liked it. Barb knew she had helped her in a small way.
“It made me feel great,” she says.
The comforting area is not only a place where patients can get fitted for wigs, but where they and their families can rest, read, or talk about their own experience with others who are going through something similar.
It is also a place where they can access many complementary therapies aimed at helping them relax and find peace. Patients can get a massage, have Reiki therapy, therapeutic touch and reflexology, or try gentle yoga. Another popular service in the Sunshine Room is the salon service, patients can get a fresh haircut, a wrap or a wig fitting done by volunteer hairdressers.
“Everything in the room is free,” says Gail.
Recently, an art therapist started running an art therapy program in the room. One project patients undertook with the therapist was to make a lacquered box. Inside the box, they outlined everything that cancer meant for them.
For people such as Susan, the room really is a ray of sunshine during their cancer treatment. Volunteers such as Barb make it that special place.
“I think I get a lot more out of it than the patients do,” she says. “It is so encouraging to see the courage these people have.”