Human Touch Helps Cancer Patients

ByABC News
November 26, 2002, 4:10 PM

Nov. 26 -- It doesn't look like much from the outside of the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic in a poor neighborhood in Oakland, Calif. But inside, it is a small slice of heaven for the women who come here to be treated.

"That sense of suffering just stops at the door," says Wai Chee Leung, one of some 200 patients at the clinic. "In here I feel so well taken care of, so well-received."

Another patient, Karen Holly, agrees. "It is almost magical," she says, "because the healing happens not only with the therapy, but it happens in the entire environment."

All the patients here have one thing in common: They are low-income women with cancer. "This disease," says patient Arie Lathuras, "can turn your life upside down in every possible way financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically."

The clinic offers pain relief in the form of alternative therapies: acupuncture, a form of meditation known as visualization therapy, herbal medicines custom-mixed on site and massage. All services are provided free of charge by some 120 volunteers.

"It's just a really direct way to help people and to feel like you're making a difference," says massage therapist Eleanor Martineau.

Human Touch Has Powerful Impact

And certainly, the power of human touch does make a difference to these women, many of whom are living alone in poverty, sometimes in homeless shelters. The clinic's co-founder, Barbara Burns, says that can make the fight against cancer almost unbearable.

"Most of the time," says Burns, "you can't go into a shelter until the evening. So if you go to get an infusion of chemotherapy, you're on the sidewalk until the shelter opens at night."

But at the clinic, the women can find a welcome respite from that other world of radiation and chemo. "You get the doctor taking care of you on a medical basis," says Karen Holly, "but what you don't get is the loving hand that you get here."

That loving hand is offered at every turn, from the hug each patient receives upon arriving to the full body massage they could never possibly afford on their own. The clinic was named for Charlotte Maxwell, a social worker who died of ovarian cancer in 1988. She believed alternative therapies greatly enhanced her quality of life in her last years. And she wanted to make those therapies available to women who were less fortunate.