Have you ever wanted to know more about what Wellness House does for cancer patients, survivors, and their families? Hinsdale Living wanted to understand the breadth and depth of this invaluable community organization, so we sat down with Executive Director Jeannie Cella who has been with Wellness House since its inception in 1990.
Hinsdale Living: How and when did Wellness House originate?
Jeannie Cella: In the late ’80s, a small group of local residents, all survivors and family members of cancer patients, took it upon themselves to build an organization whose sole purpose was to provide people affected by cancer with information, education, and support to help them navigate their cancer experience. Modeled after a national organization, Wellness House opened its doors in 1990 and began providing services at no cost to people affected by cancer.
HL: How did you become involved with Wellness House?
JC: In 1990, I was in a master’s program in counseling psychology when I read about the opening of this wonderful organization in Hinsdale. It brought me back to my mother’s death from cancer in 1975, andI immediately knew that my family could have benefited from a program such as this back then. Eager to get involved, I contacted the executive director and began working as an intern right after the doors opened.
HL: How has Wellness House evolved since 1990, and what programs and services do you provide?
JC: Cancer has changed a lot over the past 40 years. When my mother had cancer in the ’70s, there were only 3 million cancer survivors in the United States. Today, there are approximately 12 million cancer survivors due to better screening and treatments. Wellness House has changed and evolved as well.
In the beginning, the program consisted mainly of support groups, some informational programs, and relaxation and visualization classes. As cancer has evolved, research has taught us how to better treat cancer as well as how to make changes in our lifestyles to help people live better after cancer and enhance the possibility of recovery.
Today, at Wellness House, we focus our attention on helping people make positive changes in their lives with respect to behaviors they can control. We’ve grown to include nutrition programs, exercise classes, a variety of support groups, and a wide array of stress-reduction programs. Our program is divided into five main areas that research has shown makes a difference for people with cancer.
Information and Education that is cancer-specific promotes self-care and decreases symptoms that allow patients to better comply with their treatment. We have introductory programs for newcomers, frequent seminars with trained professionals, classes, and our own Wellness House Library stocked with books, CDs, and videos related to cancer.
Nutritional Counseling during cancer treatment leads to fewer treatment-related symptoms and improves quality of life.
Through educational programs, cooking demonstrations, and individual nutrition counseling, we help people make better food choices to enhance their immune system and incorporate more cancer-fighting options in their diet.
Exercise is not only safe during cancer treatment, but also it improves physical functioning, aerobic fitness and strength, quality of life, and it decreases fatigue. We offer a fitness facility and over 30 classes per week, including yoga, Pilates, and general aerobics classes for different levels.
Stress Management techniques help cancer patients feel a decrease in anxiety and an increase in control. We provide complementary body treatments, such as massage therapy, Reiki, and healing touch. And classes in meditation and self-hypnosis actually help people build the skills necessary to actively reduce stress in their everyday lives.
Social Support leads to decreased depression and improved health outcomes for people with cancer. We have a variety of support groups for people to meet with others experiencing the same type of cancer, caregiver support, and a new group for young adults with cancer. Bereavement groups for all ages, including young children, help those who have lost loved ones find support and learn coping techniques. We also offer short-term individual and family counseling.
HL: Do you have programs for children?
JC: Our Family Matters Program is dedicated to addressing the unique needs of children affected by cancer. We have different groups for children who have cancer and children who have a loved one with cancer. Helping them not only understand what cancer is but also giving them the skills to cope with their life-changing experience helps them to remain on track developmentally and maintain as normal a childhood as possible.
HL: Are there fees to participate in Wellness House’s programs?
JC: All of our programs are offered at no cost. We are a not-for-profit organization that exists because of the generous support of our donors and volunteers. It simply cannot be overstated that Wellness House is a “gift to the community from the community.” Without their generous financial support, we simply would not exist. We have two major fundraisers each year: our annual Wellness House Ball in the fall and our Walk for Wellness House each May.
HL: What is the Walk for Wellness House and can anyone attend?
JC: It is a very “We the People” kind of event, different from a black-tie event. What makes it a successful fundraiser is that the people who believe in what we do want to play a part in helping people affected by cancer. They fund-raise for it among their families, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. We typically raise close to $200,000 each year and are hoping to do so again this year.
It’s a great family event and a fun morning on Sunday, May 6, from 8–10 a.m. Community members bring their kids, strollers, and dogs out for a fun event that includes entertainment and complimentary refreshments. This year, the top fundraiser can win a travel voucher worth $800, and those who raise more than $500 have a chance to win an iPad 2, iPod touch, and iPod nano.
In the halls of Wellness House’s sunny home on the corner of Walnut Street and County Line Road in Hinsdale, “The Faces of Wellness House” say it all. Pictures of cancer survivors who’ve been helped by the organization are accompanied by quotes like these:
“I’ve been coming [to Wellness House] since February 2011 because that’s when I was at my lowest and needed it the most. Only people who have it understand it.”
—Andrea, cancer survivor
“At first I felt strange, but I can act like a regular kid here. I fit in here.”
—Megan, father died of cancer
Join the Walk for Wellness on May 6, make a difference, and feel better inside…and out.
For more information and to register for the Walk for Wellness House, visit wellnesshouse.org, or call 630-323-5150
—Words by Elaine Doremus Slayton