The House of Better Being improves outcome by enhancing the quality of life of patients
Do not be surprised to hear a chorus of laughter when you walk past a large 19th century house near the Grand Hôpital de Charleroi (GHdC). Chances are that you arrived just in time for a ‘laughing yoga’-session. It is just one of many activities on offer in the Maison Mieux-Être (literally: the House of Better Being; MME, www.maisonmieuxetre.be), a cancer daycare centre where white coats are forbidden and where integrated care is key. Since the MME first opened its doors in October 2016, around 160 patients have benefited from its programmes. And the MME received further endorsement earlier this year, when the Fondation contre le Cancer awarded a Social Grant of 100,000 euros to the Charleroi initiative. No wonder that oncologist Vincent Verschaeve is enthusiastic about the MME and the added value it brings to the cancer patients of the GHdC.
“Integrated care is a relatively new concept”, doctor Verschaeve explains. “Integrated care is a relatively new concept that started out in the USA since the early 90᾽s”, doctor Verschaeve explains. What is new is that quite recently ASCO endorsed the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) Clinical Practice Guidelines about integrative therapies during and after Breast cancer treatment.1 The main goal of integrated care is: improving the quality of life for cancer patients by reducing stress and counteracting chronic pain and depression.
This makes it more bearable to endure the treatment, which can sometimes be very taxing and exhausting. And in doing so, the outcome of the treatment improves. Better compliance to treatment requirements results in less progression, and on the whole the immune system receives a boost when a sense of wellbeing is present.” “Three days a week, the MME provides a sanctuary as well as a social hub: it helps men and women with cancer to break out of their isolation and share experiences with other patients and volunteers. And it gives a cancer patient a chance to regain a part of his or her autonomy, after a period of strict medical care.”
Doctor Verschaeve continues: “Of course, the traditional medical oncological care that we provide in the GHdC remains the most important treatment. Simply put: no non-conventional medicine can serve as an alternative to the ASCO-recommended therapies. However: certain techniques and therapies can play a complementary part and can be integrated into the care program.“ The MME offers activities in four distinct fields. Firstly ‘Energy & Vitality’, a programme that focuses on the benefits of exercise and outdoor activities, such as aquagym, yoga and Nordic Walking. The second section targets the field of emotion under the name of ‘Relations with yourself’. Here, all kinds of creative and mindful activities are offered, such as drawing classes, flower arranging and meditation. Even the ‘yoga de rire’, laughing yoga, that is meant to make people feel relaxed. The third pillar of the MME’s curriculum is ‘Health & Prevention’ and this is where special cookery classes are on offer that teach how to prepare food that is easily digested during or after cancer treatment, but also how to cook foods that are part of a balanced diet. Uniquely, the MME plans to have its own vegetable garden in future, where patients can enjoy nature and where several kinds of fruits and vegetables will be grown and subsequently used in the cookery classes and eaten together. The fourth and last focus is on ‘Body & Beauty’: this is where cancer patients get their confidence boosted by massages as well as by special make-up sessions and hairdressing. Special hairdressing workshops also teach women howto care for wigs.
“The 100,000 euro Social Grant from the Fondation contre le Cancer was most welcome”, dr. Verschaeve admits. “With that money we hope to extend our therapy garden and perhaps also fund opening a fourth day in the week. We will also invest in making the MME more accessible for all users and in organising more programmes surrounding the theme of sexuality. For many cancer patients, loss of sexuality during and after treatment can be a major issue. And also more training and supervising for the 40 volunteers that work in the MME and without whom we simply couldn’t exist. It is important that the volunteers feel as if they are part of a family. Patients only pay 2 euros per activity, and the only paid employee of the MME is the coordinator. We hope that more and more patients will discover the benefits the MME can bring. Often, we notice that patients at first don’t see the added value to what the MME contributes, and that they are too tired as it is from their treatment. But once they start coming, they realise that in our MME they can be themselves again, not just a patient.”