Spotlight: LifeSpark Cancer Resources

by Colleen M. Quinn

Spotlight: LifeSpark Cancer Resources “Refreshed” and “rejuvenated” are typically not words one would associate with the experience of cancer, but for Cindy Haney of Colorado they are words that in some ways surely describe her cancer treatment. Cindy was diagnosed in 2004 with lung cancer, which has metastasized to her brain and bones, and she regularly takes part in chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

There is one personal addition she’s made to her course of treatment, however: she sees a Reiki practitioner for energy work on a weekly basis. “I don’t think I’d have done as well with symptom relief of my treatment without this therapy,” Cindy says of Reiki. She also credits a unique organization with helping her to connect with Reiki practitioners, and allowing her to explore this valuable energy therapy. “I’m really grateful for the Reiki providers at LifeSpark,” she says of the organization, “I’m incredibly lucky to know them.”

Operating out of Denver, Colorado, LifeSpark Cancer Resources is a non-profit volunteer organization that provides support for those living with or recovering from cancer in a uniquely effective way. Healing Touch and Reiki, both which are forms of energy work, are available at LifeSpark, and help promote health and well being for clients. These energy therapies help enhance the flow of energy in a person’s body, which has a number of benefits including supporting the immune system, increasing relaxation, helping to manage pain, and promote better sleep.

“Our purpose is to provide comfort and support to clients with cancer,” says Sandy Priester, Executive Director and a founding member of LifeSpark, as well as a Reiki practitioner of 20 years. LifeSpark began as an energy therapy program within an organization called QuaLife Wellness Community in 2002. It later evolved into its own organization in 2005, and has been providing much-needed Healing Touch and Reiki to cancer patients ever since.

Sandy points out that it’s an important distinction to make that LifeSpark’s services are complementary, not alternative. Both Healing Touch and Reiki can be received in conjunction with traditional medical treatments, with very positive results. These energy therapies can help support the immune system, which in turn works very well with other medically prescribed treatments and therapies.

In addition, Sandy says that another part of LifeSpark’s goal is to support the medical community through their work. “We never question a doctor’s recommendations,” says Sandy, “We view this as organizations working in complement with each other. We want people to be in treatment [for their cancer]. A person should be receiving the benefits of everything they can get.”

Because she receives Reiki on a weekly basis, Cindy feels that in some ways her Reiki provider knows her in ways that some of her doctors may not. “She really gets to know my body’s energy, and that helps me to gain strength, knowing what I need,” she says of her Reiki provider. Cindy heard about LifeSpark in 2005 and worked with their providers for about three years, although she now sees her own private practitioner. Cindy says that the first thing she noticed was the calming effects of Reiki, and that afterwards she felt much more energetic, even after her chemotherapy sessions. “This is really a very useful therapy,” she says, adding that she felt more able to deal with the effects of her cancer treatment as well.

Reiki and Healing Touch are similar in many ways, but they are also each a distinctive type of healing modality developed independently and with different histories. Reiki is a form of energy work that was developed in Japan in the early 1900s. A practice that addresses the whole person in body, mind and spirit, Reiki works with the body’s energies to promote a person’s natural healing abilities. “Reiki is deceptively simple!” says Sandy in describing how Reiki is performed. As the client lies fully clothed on a massage table, the provider places their hands on a client, and the energetic work takes place.

Healing Touch is a more modern form of energy work, developed in 1989 by a nurse named Janet Mentgen. It is taught through a continuing education program for nurses, and is endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Association. Similar to a Reiki session, the client lies fully clothed on a massage table as the provider places their hands on or over them as well. In Healing Touch, however, there are specific points along the body at which the provider places their hands, as well as the order in which they address these points. This is in keeping with a more Western medical form, which makes it easy for nurses to include Healing Touch in their regular practices.

While they are different forms of energy work, Healing Touch and Reiki can produce very similar, beneficial results. Clients often report a warm or tingling feeling at the site of the provider’s hands, and it’s common to become deeply relaxed over the course of a session. More long-term effects include reduction in stress, anxiety, increase in mental clarity, and an overall feeling of well-being.

What’s great specifically for cancer patients is the pain relief and feeling of rejuvenation that result from a Healing Touch or Reiki session. Both therapies can also enhance and support the immune system, which is key for anyone undergoing chemotherapy treatments. “Healing Touch and Reiki are so gentle, they can work for anyone,” says Sandy. Side effects like radiation burns from different forms of chemotherapy can make a person’s body extremely fragile, so the gentle nature of these energy therapies means that anyone can receive them.

This is particularly important for Cindy, who has also had a total of seven brain tumors radiated. “I’ve noticed that when I have Reiki right after that [procedure], I heal so much faster,” she says. Brain tumors can be especially difficult to deal with, and Cindy says that receiving Reiki left her feeling more connected and more herself. “It has such a profound effect on me,” she says, “Emotionally, mentally, physically… all those aspects feel more integrated again.”

Another aspect that makes Reiki and Healing Touch uniquely valuable is that it can be done anywhere at anytime, because the only tools a provider uses is their hands. Reiki and Healing Touch require no equipment, no prep tools, and no setup, save for a massage table, if necessary. “All we really need are hands, heart, and compassion,” says Sandy. A client can receive either type of energy work sitting, standing, or lying on a massage table. And since there isn’t any need to purchase or maintain equipment, LifeSpark is more able to provide their services to those living with cancer at a greatly reduced cost. Sessions are offered on a sliding scale, and cost anywhere from $1 to $20 per session.

Sessions with LifeSpark providers take place in donated spaces in churches and hospitals in Denver, Boulder, Englewood, and Lakewood, which also allows LifeSpark to keep its expenses low. This in turn allows clients who might not otherwise afford energy work a way to make it a part of their treatment and care. However, these locations can change from time to time, and Sandy recommends checking LifeSpark’s website for a current list of locations.

As Executive Director, Sandy is one of a few staff members at LifeSpark; the vast majority of those who keep the organization running are volunteers. “Our core service delivery is done by volunteer providers,” says Sandy. She describes those who work at LifeSpark as a group of energy workers who are passionate about making the benefits of Healing Touch available to those who need it most.

“Most people within LifeSpark know someone with cancer,” she says, describing a more personal motivation for many volunteer providers. “It’s seen everywhere. Cancer is nondiscriminatory. By working with cancer patients, we work with a very large group of people.”

To become a volunteer provider at LifeSpark, a person must complete an 18 hour training program, and must also have previous training and experience with this kind of energy work. The LifeSpark training includes self-care through Healing Touch and Reiki, professionalism, and techniques specific to cancer.

Clients usually come to LifeSpark through a referral from a medical professional or by word of mouth; on average, LifeSpark serves about 50 clients a year, although this year is showing more clients than usual already. While those with cancer are given first priority, people recovering from cancer and the side effects of treatments can also take part in LifeSpark’s services.

Hospitals and medical centers across the country are recognizing the benefits of therapies like Healing Touch. More and more hospitals are offering energy therapies to help patients with pain management, aid them before and after surgeries, and even as an integrated part of geriatric care. Lutheran Medical Center in Denver, for example, offers such integrated care through its Bridges Integrated Health Services. Healing Touch is offered here, as well as acupuncture, massage therapy, and other types of complementary care. “There’s no question that there’s a growing interest in Reiki and Healing Touch,” Sandy says, “You’re likely to find these offered [at medical centers] in any large city.”

Cindy whole heartedly agrees. “Over time, I’ve found that this is a great way to incorporate these things,” Cindy says, referring to receiving Reiki on a regular basis in addition to the medical treatment she takes part in. “I’ll go [into a Reiki session] feeling totally exhausted, and I’ll come out feeling so refreshed and spacious,” she says, “It really calms things down for me and gives me new energy.”

In her experience, Sandy has also found that Reiki was a valuable healing tool for herself, both emotionally and physically, as well as a way to help others. Sandy later began her work with Healing Touch in 2000, and became one of the founding members of what is now LifeSpark in 2002. Cindy, too, has trained a little in Reiki, so she can practice her own self-healing as needed. “Anyone can learn how to do this, you don’t need to be a nurse or doctor to learn it,” she says. The aspect of self-healing is one that is specific to the energy work done through Healing Touch and Reiki – it can help anyone anywhere, and at any time. “Most people start out [in energy work] as a way of self-healing,” Sandy says, “After that it’s easy to see how it can help your family and friends, too.”

The capacity to heal on so many levels and in such an effective way has made LifeSpark an invaluable resource to a community of people living with and healing from cancer. “We’ve all seen the changing experience of cancer,” says Sandy, “Everyone knows someone who’s been affected by it.” The unfortunate frequency of cancer means that LifeSpark’s work is more relevant and necessary than ever. Cindy, for one, can attest to that fact. “I don’t think I’d have done as well with the relief of symptoms from my treatment without this therapy,” she says, “I’m a real advocate for energy work. People need this kind of support … these are really beneficial therapies that can help so much.”

About Colleen Quinn

Colleen QuinnColleen Quinn graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Mass Communication. A writer for most of her life, she has been writing for for over two years. In that time, she’s had the opportunity to meet with many practitioners and masters of the healing arts. Using her years of customer service experience and time as an intern reporter, Colleen provides a unique means of expression for each practitioner she meets. She believes that honest interest and open ears are paramount for learning and understanding the world around us. Through her writing, Colleen offers readers a valuable insight into the work of those who are doing so much to help others.

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