Published September 13, 2007
restores body, mind, spirit
help participants learn to live well after a cancer
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
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
“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
“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
“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.”
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 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
• Wellness House Library provides access to high quality
health-related information, materials and supportive
• Special events are offered throughout the year on
topics such as supporting the caregiver and dealing with
• 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.
• 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
• Nutritional Options for Living Well is a 10-week class
that helps people find reliable information on diet,
nutrition and cancer.
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.
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.
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.