Bringing a caring ‘touch’ to cancer patients

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Loving care: Founder and executive director of Faye's Light, Vicky Weis, stands near the bed of Ingalls Memorial Hospital patient, Jeffrey Hartman, of Homewood, as he receives a complimentary massage provided by Faye's Light. Massage therapist Cindy McCormack, of Tinley Park, helps Hartman relax during his stay at Ingalls Hospital. | Mary Compton ~ Sun-Times Media

Vicky Weis is a firm believer in the healing power of touch.

Whether it comes from a soothing massage, an invigorating facial or a relaxing manicure, Weis credits touch with the power to calm, to reassure and to restore. And she’s not alone.

Countless research studies support Weis’s belief, but the real proof came when she saw the positive effect touch had on her mother in the final months of her life.

“My mother, Faye, died of lung, brain, and liver cancer in 1995,” Weis explained. “During her 13-month journey, I had the privilege of being her primary caretaker. I have never forgotten how much she loved it when I would polish her nails and massage her hands and feet. She was able to relax and feel more attractive, and definitely felt loved.”

Spreading the care

During her mother’s treatment, Weis watched other patients as they went through cancer treatment.

“I found that they (like my mother) experienced feelings of isolation,” she said. “Loved ones and caretakers, often dealing with feelings of fear and confusion themselves, aren’t always able to help alleviate those problems.”

After she recovered from her mother’s death, Weis — an aromatherapist and personal trainer — was determined to give other cancer patients the same kind of loving care she gave her mother in her finals months, free of charge.

“My mom and I were best friends,” she explained. “She was someone I talked to every day. My mom taught me unconditional love. When you love someone unconditionally, you don’t expect something back in return.”

Inspired by this, Weis created Faye’s Light for patients undergoing active cancer treatment.

“The services provided by Faye’s Light professionals allow truly deserving individuals an escape from the fear and anxiety of their disease,” she said. “Faye’s Light benefits the patient in mind, body and spirit.”

With support from several area hospitals and spa services donated by licensed, certified professionals, Faye’s Light opened in a small office suite at Little Company of Mary Hospital in September 2005. At first, the services were offered on a part-time basis, but they quickly expanded to a full-time schedule.

As word spread, cancer patients from throughout the Chicago Southland and Northwest Indiana became Faye’s Light clients, eager to receive the complimentary spa services and holistic treatments offered by Weis and her team.

Sharing the love through Faye’s Light

Today, Faye’s Light is located in a beautifully decorated space donated by Duane and Nancy Kaminski, owners of ASC Industries in East Hazel Crest. The suite features five treatment rooms, three restrooms, a kitchen and a common area.

“Patients tell us they feel good just walking through the door,” she said. “It’s such a calming place.”

Services include massage, facials, manicures, pedicures, Reiki and other energy work, aromatherapy, therapeutic art and guided meditation. All are 100 percent free and funded entirely by donations.

To date, Faye’s Light counts 1,400 cancer patients as clients, and has provided more than 7,500 services.

Running an organization that provides free services is no small feat. As founder and executive director, Weis wears many hats and juggles countless responsibilities. On any given day, you might find her researching grant opportunities, planning a fundraising event, scheduling a spa service or building relationships with people who support the organization’s mission.

“Somehow by the grace of God and the generosity of so many, we’ve been able to continue,” she added. “We see our clients change right before our very eyes. God wanted more love in the world, and we’re so pleased to share it through Faye’s Light.”

In fact, Weis’s good works have garnered quite a bit of attention over the years and have been spotlighted in numerous media outlets, including a two-and-a-half-minute “Making a Difference” segment on the NBC Nightly News. Though Weis plans to keep Faye’s Light a local organization, she has been approached by others to spread her vision.

“We have a very high standard here,” she explained. “I don’t want to franchise Faye’s Light.”

She has, however, given thought to creating “points of light” by teaching others about the Faye’s Light concept on a national level.

That way, they can use their own name, energy and talents to keep the light glowing bright in other parts of the country.

Weis, who’s also in the process of writing a book about her work, is hoping to expand the center’s hours in East Hazel Crest from two days a week to five.

A generous gift

And this month, Faye’s Light is celebrating its second anniversary of providing bedside services for cancer patients at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey. Through a partnership with Ingalls, Faye’s Light therapists visit Ingalls one day a week giving massages and Reiki treatments. And thanks to a recent gift from the Richard K. Desser, M.D., Memorial Fund, the Ingalls inpatient Oncology Unit has received a variety of soothing items to make cancer patients feel more at home during their hospital stay, including fluffy fleece robes and throw blankets, oversized bath sheets, sound machines in each room, portable DVD players to watch a favorite movie, several comfortable recliner chairs, and a Keurig coffee maker.

“The patient care staff at Ingalls feel honored and blessed to have been chosen as the inpatient location for these wonderful cancer comfort treatments,” said Pat Padilla, manager of the Ingalls Oncology Unit. “The Faye’s Light therapists who come to Ingalls are so kind and compassionate . . . as is Vicky herself, who comes into the patient’s room first to explain the services. With the addition of these comfort services and therapies, we feel like our patients are getting the extra consideration that they so ought to have.”

Padilla recently described a Homewood woman (herself a breast cancer survivor) who felt the strain of being the total caregiver of her husband, a cancer patient. “She took advantage of a Reiki session while he was in the hospital,” Padilla said. “She said to the nurses afterwards that it was like a gift that dropped out of the sky just for her.”

In fact, “gift” is exactly how Weis describes the services offered by Faye’s Light.

“That’s why our services are free,” she said. “When something is truly a gift, you don’t expect something in return. Cancer patients have so many fears; if we can offer them some small comfort, then I know we’re doing what we set out to do.”

For more information about Faye’s Light, or to make a donation, visit www.fayeslight.org. Faye’s Light is also in need of volunteer massage therapists, estheticians and nail technicians.

Provided by Debra Robbins, of Ingalls Health System