At the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, healing experiences can be found in unexpected places—like the radiation oncology waiting room.
When the center’s building was originally planned, the radiation oncology area was set up for one machine, known as a linear accelerator. There, after checking in, patients change into gowns and await treatment in a sitting area. The space was set up with separate waiting rooms for men and women, plus changing areas and restrooms.
The women’s sitting area, however, became a place for more than simply waiting.
“This really interesting dynamic happened that I don’t think the planners ever expected,” says OSUCCC – James radiation oncologist Julia White, MD. “It became an impromptu place for support. You would see women actively engaging and sharing, and about all of the aspects of their life, not just their treatment. It was women supporting women. We had people coming back for each other’s bell-ringing ceremony.”
When a second accelerator was installed and the number of female patients increased, they opted for standing room in the women’s waiting room rather than use a different space where seating was available.
“They didn’t want to miss out on this dynamic,” White says. “I don’t think anyone anticipated this.”
White and her colleagues didn’t want them to miss it either. When they proposed enlarging and renovating the space, organizers of Stef’s Celebrate Life Tailgate stepped up with support. The Tailgate is an annual event that raises money for the Stef’s Celebrate Life Tailgate Fund at the OSUCCC – James. The Tailgate fund supports technology and equipment needs at the Breast Center.
“We felt like it was a perfect fit for our tailgate, and we were thrilled to be a part,” says Sue Fitz, Stefanie’s older sister and board president of the Tailgate, which was started by Stefanie. “As a board we may not understand all the technology, but we understand the camaraderie and supporting each other. I especially understand what it means to be in that cancer world with my sister. I know how much support you get from other patients and people going through the same thing. As a board we are delighted we can support that with a larger space that’s welcoming to be together and to feel supported emotionally and physically.”
Phaedra Edwards, an interior designer and former Tailgate board member, helped plan the interior of the space, which includes a quote of Stefanie’s on the wall: “With each year, each month, and even each day, there are breakthroughs and possibilities in the fight against cancer.”
“We wanted to bring in a little bit of Stefanie and help the women who are going through radiation feel more comfortable,” says Edwards, who was Stefanie’s friend and neighbor. “These women really form friendships, so we wanted the space to feel a little brighter and just have a little more glamour.”
In addition to seating, the new radiation oncology waiting room will offer features for sharing, such as a bulletin board for pinning notes and words of affirmation, a library and photos from past Celebrate Life Tailgate events—parties that Stefanie threw every year after Race for the Cure to celebrate another year of life.
“We’ve tried to think of all the things patients can benefit from in this place,” Fitz says.
Women in this waiting area see each other every day for weeks on end during therapy, and the friendships they form are unlike any other.
“When patients come to radiation therapy they’ve often been on a long journey—often they’ve done chemo, surgery, and they are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says White. “They’re starting to understand what has happened and what it means in their lives, and who better to share that with than other people going through the same experience. These people come from all walks of life, and this is something they share.”
Now, thanks to help from Stef’s Celebrate Life Tailgate, more women will find in the radiation oncology waiting room a place of hope and comfort.
Stef’s Celebrate Life Tailgate is held annually each fall. Visit stefscelebratelifetailgate.org for dates, to register and to obtain more information.