Bethesda center offers support for those affected by cancer
Patients find comfort at The Wellness Center
Naomi Brookner/The Gazette
"I felt I had to find other people to help me through it," she said.
While attending an ovarian cancer conference, she found The Wellness Community, a nationwide cancer support center with a location in Bethesda.
In July 2007 Marrott began visiting the community's site on Grosvenor Lane, and, like the 3,500 other visitors who have come to the Bethesda location since it opened in March 2007, fell in love with it.
"It's just a wonderful experience," she said. "…it's a welcoming place that belongs to the people who go there."
The main goal of the group is to offer a welcoming environment for cancer patients and their loved ones, away from the chemotherapy machines and monthly checkups with oncologists. A large lounge with leather furniture and a full kitchen greets visitors, and small rooms for yoga and support groups line the walls.
The Community, according to president and CEO Paula Rothenberg, is a safe haven for people dealing with, for most, the most traumatic experience of their lives.
"We really give people a place where they can talk," she said, "which is often the most important thing."
The program is free to all, and invites current cancer patients, their loved ones, and recovering patients to its door. Over the course of the year, educational sessions are held discussing nutrition, and weekly support groups for patients and their families dot the community's calendar.
Since opening, The Wellness Community of Greater Washington, D.C., as it's formally called, has expanded greatly, in both the number of visitors it serves and the number of programs it offers.
A monthly event calendar shows 53 scheduled events for July 2008, compared to 30 for April 2007.
The center is funded by private donations and foundation grants.
Part of what keeps patients coming to the wooded center is the understanding community people find once they get there.
Marilyn Martens, of Rockville, was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2008. After a lobectomy of her lower left lung, one of the first places she headed was The Wellness Community.
"Especially with lung cancer, people assume you brought it on yourself," she said. "But here the support is unbelievable. This has added a whole new dimension to my illness."
One of the most popular classes at the center is yoga, which has grown from one class in March 2007 to four. Less than three weeks after her surgery, Martens was on the yoga mat, stretching and balancing her breathing.
"I'd practiced yoga before, but I couldn't go regular yoga with an incision across my chest," she said.
The yoga at The Wellness Community is gentler, and allows visitors to take it easy.
Barbara Shaffer, a program director at the community, said the yoga classes and support groups create a different feeling than hospital waiting rooms.
"When people walk through the doors, they're safe," she said. "They don't feel like they're at another clinic; they can come and go as they please."
The realities of cancer, however, are still present. Rothenberg said 20 community visitors have died since March 2007, and Marrott's cancer has returned.
She will begin new rounds of chemotherapy soon, she said.
"It's nice to know that I have to place to go, though," she said. "There's plenty of support now."