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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published September 13, 2007                                                           

Wellness House restores body, mind, spirit
Programs, relationships help participants learn to live well after a cancer diagnosis

  By Pamela Lannom

   Cancer has a formidable opponent in Wellness House.
   Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say those diagnosed with cancer have a formidable ally.
   But Wellness House doesn’t provide medical care. It supports people who want to be participants in the own recovery process.
   And that support can take many different forms. Sometimes people coping with a diagnosis don’t feel like they can cry around family  members. They can at Wellness House.
   “Our point of view, the crying is just real,” Executive Director Jeannie Cella said. “It’s not good or bad, so be there with it instead of trying to make it go away.”
   Being with participants wherever they are spiritually and emotionally is important. Wellness House also helps them see that they have options.
   “That’s what we try to help people do — keep an open mind to all possibilities,” Cella said. “Allow yourself other possibilities and work in the direction of making the most of whatever time you have. I think we really do a good job of being with people wherever they are because of all the experience we have.”
   Tim Gawron, who was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer a year ago, has taken advantage of that experience.
   “They’ve all been very helpful,” he said. “When I got the diagnosis — it was just hearing that I had stage four prostate cancer — I didn’t know what that meant.”
   The relationships he formed with staff and other participants helped him become part of a community focused on restoring body, mind and spirit, he said.
   “Relationships that are built, fostered in a very nondependent way, that helps one become aware of one’s strengths as well as one’s  vulnerabilities in this situation,” he said.
   Gawron isn’t sure exactly how much time he has left. Without Wellness House, the past year would have been one of isolation and indecision.
   “I would have lacked a sounding board, not only in terms of professional staff but in terms of peers who were going through what I was going through and probably (would have been) a lot more frustrated because there’s this sense that if you’re doing it alone, you’re kind of reinventing the wheel,” he said.

A job that was meant to be
Cella knows what it’s like to feel alone after a cancer diagnosis.
   Her mother died at age 59, six months after she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Cella was only 22 at the time.
   When Cella called the doctor who was handling her mother’s radiation treatments to ask for more information, she was told to go buy a book on death and dying and share it with her siblings and her father.
   “That was the psycho-social support I got,” said Cella, now executive director at Wellness House. “That was it. It was a horrendous experience for me and my siblings. When I read about this place, I thought, ‘Oh, my God — could we have used this.’ ”
   Cella was in graduate school working on a master’s degree in counseling psychology when she read about Wellness Community, a national organization that was the predecessor to Wellness House, coming to Hinsdale.
   “I was so drawn to the concept of a place for people to talk about the ramifications of the illness, I called the executive director at the time and said I’d like to do an internship or volunteer,” Cella said.
   She was taken up on her offer. That was 1990, and she has worked at Wellness House ever since.
   “It has been totally meaningful and fulfilling for me ever since I walked through the door the first time,” she said.

Proud to serve a ‘wonderful organization’
Tom Lee first become acquainted with Wellness House 10 years ago when he was trying to help a friend who lost his wife to cancer.
   “Two years later Bill Walker, who was then the executive director, called me and asked me if I’d like to join the board,” said Lee, who now serves as that group’s chairman.
   So many wonderful adjectives could be used to describe Wellness House, he said.
   “I think it’s the sense of community and resources that it provides to people and families affected by cancer,” he said of what impresses him most.
   Wellness House offers support for people with cancer and their families at all levels, he said. And it often reaches people who didn’t expect they would ever need or want its services.
   “I’ve seen the crusty old Irishman who would say he’d never contemplated this type of support and a year later saying he doesn’t know what he would do without it,” Lee said.
   “I think the one thing you do learn is there is such an unbelievable need for it and people still not fully understanding — in not just Hinsdale but in the area — what services it provides,” he added.
   Cella agrees and said many think the organization provides nursing care or is only for people who are near death. In reality, it is about learning to heal after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
   “Healing doesn’t always have to happen in a physical form,” she said. “Healing can take place without your body healing. Healing and cure are not synonyms.
   “We hope people get cured, obviously, but it’s the healing of body, mind and spirit that we focus on.”

— Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between
The Hinsdalean and Wellness House to increase
awareness about the organization, which works to
encourage, educate and emotionally support people
working to overcome the affects of cancer in their work.

 Wellness House offerings
Wellness House helps people with cancer learn to incorporate behaviors into their lives that are going to give them the best chances of living as long as possible, Executive Director Jeannie Cella said.
   The organization’s focus is on providing support, education and information. Following is a sampling of some of its offerings. Some programs require registration, others do not. For more information, visit

Information and education
• Welcome to Wellness is an informal orientation to Wellness House and what is offers. The sessions are held twice a week, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and from 11 to 12:30 p.m. Thursdays.
• Essentials for Coping with Cancer teaches strategies to help participants feel better, gain control and strengthen relationships.
• Wellness House Library provides access to high quality health-related information, materials and supportive resources.
• Special events are offered throughout the year on topics such as supporting the caregiver and dealing with neuropathy.

Support groups
• On the Mend is an eight-week session for people who have completed their last cancer treatment in the last 12 to 15 months.
• Managing Recurrent and Metastic Disease deals with the many unique issues faced by people with recurrence and/or metastic disease.
• Reflecting on Spirituality and Cancer offers a forum for people to explore the various aspects of their own spirituality and the ways in which it affects and is affected by the cancer experience.

Healthy living
• Lifestyle Options is a weekly drop-in program in which different lifestyle topics and their relationship to cancer are discussed.
• Exercise classes focusing on cardio workouts, strength training, flexibility and balance are offered Mondays through Thursdays. Daytime and evening classes are available.
• Nutritional Options for Living Well is a 10-week class that helps people find reliable information on diet, nutrition and cancer.

Family programs
Family Matters is a comprehensive, educational and supportive program that keeps children on track developmentally when a loved one has cancer. Groups include Kids I and Kids II, two eight-week support groups; Turtles, for children dealing with bereavement; Teen Talk and Time Out for Teens; and Kids Kamp, an eight-session summer camp.
   Special events are offered that correspond with major holidays.

Stress reduction
Classes in mindfulness based stress reduction, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, yoga and healing touch are offered either on a regular basis or during special sessions during the year.
   Participants also can sign up for deep hypnosis and music and massage therapy sessions.

Bereavement support
Wellness House offers a variety of options to support those who have lost a loved on to cancer: Transitions, a 12-week bereavement group; drop in grief group; bereavement personal planning session; and bereavement workshops focused on specific topics. 



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