When Vasso Paliouras’ baby sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2004 on the day after her 17th birthday, Vasso began a lifelong journey. At her sister’s side during treatment and eventually remission, she couldn’t help but think of other patients’ support systems, thoughts, lives, and feelings. She wanted to “lend her heart” to each of the individuals and their families.
Vasso introduced the concept of Lending Hearts in January 2011, and by December 2011, Vasso and a compassionate team formed to begin their first month of family programming. Now, Lending Hearts has grown to provide a variety of services to provide emotional and social support to children and young adults with cancer and their families through unique activities and community outreach, as stated by the organization’s mission.
Lending Hearts first brought UP Street to Children’s Hospital in March 2017. The program is an integrative pediatric oncology program that provides various modalities of integrative therapies to help patients surviving treatment, according to Lending Hearts’ official website.
Yoga and an integrative nutrition lunch and learn session are held for clinic patients and families. On the inpatient side, in addition to weekly yoga and a monthly nutrition session, aromatherapy, hand/foot massages and mindfulness and relaxation sessions are offered.
The organization coordinates with the Child Life Department at Children’s to bring in specialists to perform wellness services, and all services for the clinic and inpatients are free of charge to the patients and their families.
“It is important for all of the family to learn and experience the benefits of these services,” said Paliouras. “Integrative wellness is not alternative medicine or a cure. It is the weaving together of medical care with wellness modalities that allow for an improved quality of life when undergoing cancer treatment and beyond. The wellness program comes alongside medical care to create a smooth treatment process for the patient and their family.”
The main goal of the UP Street program is to use the services provided as coping mechanisms to help with pain, anxiety and other complications that may arise during treatment and to thereby improve quality of life for our pediatric oncology patients.
“UP Street’s services complement the great work already provided by Children’s with pet therapy, music therapy, and art therapy,” added Paliouras. “UP Street provides the tools and resources that patients and families can carry with them for the rest of their lives as they deal with the importance of good nutrition, exercise as well as symptoms of stress, anxiety, pain, and nausea.”
What are the benefits of the holistic therapies UP Street provides patients and families? Often, patients’ moods improve after a session, and they report diminished pain. Nurses say it is easier to administer medical care when the patients and family are at ease from the wellness services.
“I have seen many positive things come from the program in the outpatient clinic,” said Jordan Sosko, RN, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and nurse ambassador for Lending Hearts. “I have seen aromatherapy and deep breathing exercises help patients who are anxious, and this has been especially helpful for our oncology patients while they are having their Mediports accessed. I have also heard so many patients have positive experiences with our one-on-one yoga sessions. We also hold lunches in clinic two times per month where a nutrition specialist discusses healthy swaps for our families to feel empowered to make healthy eating choices.”
The program provides training to select nurses who become Lending Hearts Nurse Ambassadors and can perform specific services when needed. UP Street only had one Nurse Ambassador at the start. One year later, four nurses now hold the title of Lending Hearts Nurse Ambassador.
“These nurses are trained at The Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center,” said Paliouras. “They have been trained to offer aromatherapy, seated yoga, hand/foot massages, and deep breathing.”
While UP Street and Lending Hearts is happy to see the services help patients and their families during treatment, the ultimate hope is the patients and families carry these techniques beyond treatment.
“With great medical care and research, more children and young adults continue to survive their cancer diagnosis,” said Paliouras. “Stress and anxiety, however, may continue. By offering a menu of wellness options that we’re able to offer free-of-charge at Children’s, young patients have the opportunity to learn and try different wellness modalities. They can learn which techniques they prefer and work well for them. These valuable tools and resources can forever be integrated into their lifestyle as lifelong skills they can take with them forever-during treatment and beyond hospital care.”
The oncology program is delighted to be among the only pediatric oncology programs in the country who can offer this type of service to their patients. To learn more, visit www.lendinghearts.org.