Nancy Ballard is the Founder and Executive Director of RoomsThatRock4Chemo. Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo (RTR4C) pioneering work to transform uninspired spaces into healing environments brings the comfort of beauty and peace to those suffering. Many cancer patients spend hours a day in chemotherapy treatment rooms. The difference between a grey, clinical setting and a room painted with uplifting colors, gentle lighting and thoughtful details can be profound.
Since 2011, RTR4C have transformed over 20 rooms worldwide. Some of the locations in California were The Global Cancer Research Institute – Gilroy, Olive View -UCLA Medical Center, San Francisco General Hospital, and in San Salvador the Maternity Hospital of San Salvador.
“Until we are intimately involved, we cannot be fully aware of the toll that a cancer diagnosis has on patients and their families. Lives are turned upside-down while constant worry about prognosis, finances, legacy and life can spin us into a crisis situation. At these times, even the simplest acts of kindness have incredibly lasting and reverberating effects.”
Nancy, can you tell us how RoomsThatRock4Chemo got started?
In May 2011, at the age of 60, I was happily retired, living the dream as a successful artist, author, wife, mother, and Nana. It was then I saw my first chemotherapy room “by mistake.” Simply by taking a right turn instead of a left turn, a nurse who admired my botanical art, showed me a chemo room that needed some tender loving care. I wondered aloud how anyone could heal in a room that was so sad and drab; that lacked any interest, joy, or beauty. I knew a bit of art wasn’t going to make the difference it needed. Contacting volunteer designers and local vendors and using a 100 percent volunteer workforce, we “rocked” our first room.
This experience led to the creation of Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo, my non-profit organization that exclusively updates and beautifies spaces where cancer patients —and those who care for them—spend the many hours the treatment requires. Five years later, our rocked-rooms host more than half a million patient visits per year in 18 facilities in the U.S. and two in San Salvador.
Can you describe your emotions/feelings each time you transform a room?
The main emotion that comes over me is gratitude –
Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo (RTR4C) would not be possible without the passionate donation of talent, time, and money from thousands of volunteers, and local and national businesses via their donation of supplies and sponsorships. All of these volunteers and donors have responded with enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity to be involved.
There is so much involved in getting even one room transformed. First the facility has to know of us and/or be open to a conversation about rocking their environment. This can be somewhat difficult, as a hospital employee needs to volunteer to be involved, be in charge as our go to person, and spend time they normally don’t even have to coordinate with us.
Once it is “a go” we need to ask volunteers to get the work done – from project management, interior design and story board creation, coordination with facilities, finding sufficient volunteers, picking a weekend that works for everyone, and paying for the project. If the project is not local, there needs to be travel arrangements made and paid for, which creates a longer build out time for traveling volunteers.
What type of volunteers are you looking for to work on your projects?
I pretty much say we need “one of everything.”
Volunteers for projects are best found in the community we are serving, same with sponsors. The community involvement is what makes this so much different than just an “interior design project”. However we are always looking for:
- Grant Writers/Donors – Funding can be an issue and we do not want to say no to anyone because of funding. We normally ask the facility to “fundraise with us” but often times they are not able to do so. Without grant money or an angel donor we cannot take these projects on.
- Connections – It has been a dream to transform the chemotherapy centers in Veteran’s Hospitals throughout the country. For six months, we worked tirelessly with Ft. Miley in San Francisco to no avail. We could not pierce the veil to get an okay for an “all expense paid, donation of comfort, kindness, and compassion.” Hard to believe…
- And of course, the children, let’s rock the Children’s Centers throughout the world. Invite us to your facility – Make the introduction, get your community involved, and lets rock rooms in your home town!
- Affiliations/Partners/Chapters in every city – I know there are amazing non profit organizations throughout the United States that have a successful format to fundraise and encourage volunteerism. Susan G. Komen is a wonderful example of this. Although I’m not sure how it would happen, I envision chapters in every major city around the world, like a Susan G. Komen. The volunteers, instead of running for a cure, would possibly volunteer a weekend and transform the rooms that all those with cancer receive treatment.
Everyone can do something – If not paint and/or stencil, sign in volunteers, offer water to those working on the facility, write thank you notes, offer encouragement, fundraise. The list is endless.
Most of the time we do not see the patients as we work in one quick weekend when the rooms are not in use. Or, the chemotherapy center is moved to another location within the facility so we can get our work done. On Monday, there is often a ribbon cutting ceremony to honor the work that has been done. This is usually the only time we see the patients.
What other organizations/hospitals do you have in mind to rock their rooms?
We have three projects pending for the first quarter in 2017.
- University of San Francisco (UC Hospital) Gama Knife Room/Center, San Francisco, CA
- Martinez Health Center/Infusion Clinic, Martinez, CA
- Shriners Hospital Sacramento, CA
Where do you see your dream going from here?
My vision is that every patient receiving chemotherapy treatment is provided with a concrete sign of care and concern, bringing awareness to the fact that these patients and their families are so much more than just numbers in a complex healthcare system. We do this by providing lovely, hopeful, and soothing environments. And for the kids—fun! All chemotherapy needs to be administered in a peaceful, joyful, and hopeful environment. It makes a difference. I have volunteers that tell me, “I wish my (fill in the blanks, my sister, my mother, etc) had treatment in a room like this. It just might have made a difference. She/he might have fought harder, not been so hopeless, so ready to give up.”
How big do you want your dream to be?
RoomsThatRock4Chemo has been called an “accidental nonprofit,” as I was not looking for a project—let alone a 24/7 volunteer job. I cannot exactly say why I was so moved in this direction or why I took it on so personally. Maybe it was a reaction to the blessing that I am physically well as is my family. Maybe it was the artist in me that was literally shocked that an environment could look so hopeless.
I recognized a very real need to reach out to those who are often marginalized because of cancer and who—because of their urgent health needs—must accept without complaint what is given to them. I saw firsthand that those receiving chemotherapy in hopes of saving their lives were often subjected to dismal, dark, and non-healing environments without thought or consideration given to comfort, rest, and tranquility. Patients and family members sought to get through the grueling ordeal of cancer while in rooms that often did not support their human dignity or struggle.
Many of these sweet souls seeking treatment are hidden away in hospitals and left to get through their struggle alone. Ours is the first organization to acknowledge the very real problem of drab chemo room environments and to give of time, self, and money to find a solution. I was invited to San Salvador twice and we transformed entire centers in less than a week. The community was involved and donated time, materials, and volunteers. As we say, Cancer doesn’t discriminate and neither do we!
What gets you up in the morning?
RoomsThatRock4Chemo is certainly a big part of what gets me up in the morning. It started as just me, financing what I could, finding volunteers, sponsors, and professionals to get the job done. Five plus years later, we make a difference in over half a million patient visits per year; and bring hope and kindness to the families and caregivers of those receiving treatment. Our “rocked rooms” have brought an increased awareness to healthcare providers and local community leaders, highlighting the needs of this patient population. The non-profit has also brought gratitude and appreciation to those who have benefited from the healing and soothing effects and has given the community volunteers a sense of accomplishment and a deeper appreciation of the plight of those who are in need of healing.
The wonder of it all is that these volunteers want to keep on giving, and thus the continuity of this project as a long-term solution to a truly worldwide challenge has huge momentum. As an added bonus, we are improving the daily lives of those who by profession serve this population, and we are challenging other communities to do likewise.
I cannot stop until this can be done without me. That might sound strange, but when there are enough volunteers and leaders that understand this simple concept and adhere to the logistics that work; I can spend my time promoting RTR4C, getting volunteers, donors, and sponsors enthusiastic and involved.
Then I will feel comfortable leaving the everyday activities to others.
Reviews on RoomsThatRock4Chemo
“Just wanted to let you know that the patient feedback we’ve gotten so far has been so overwhelmingly positive. They LOVE it and really say it makes a difference in clinic (patients have said it feels like you are at a ‘real’ cancer center). Beyond that, this project has inspired some of our higher-ups to want to do a redesign for our other clinics, as they are able to see what a big difference these changes have made
One patient actually asked (a little confused) to clarify if the clinic was on the 2nd floor because they saw the skylights and wondered why they could look outside. lol. Thanks again for all of your amazing work!”
Dr. Phillis Wu, Olive View Medical Center – UCLA