Reprinted with permission from The Tommy Fund for Childhood Cancer.
The following article appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of the Tommy Fund News.
Julie Innocenzi is one of Damian Rynkowski’s favorite people. Once a week, she comes to Damian’s home in Killingworth to administer reflexology therapy. Damian has known considerable pain from the cancer that has wracked his body. During these sessions, Damian’s entire body relaxes as Julie works her magic on his feet.
Reflexology is a treatment that applies hand pressure to specific areas of the feet in the hope of balancing the flow of vital energy or life fore called qi (or chi) throughout the body. It is one of a growing number of alternative treatments that patients sometimes seek out in addition to standard medical care. According to a recent National Institutes of Health survey, as many as one third of all patients seek alternative health therapies.
Though there is no evidence that reflexology cures cancer or any other disease, Damian’s mom, Sue sees major improvements in Damian’s spirits after Julie leaves. “When he would see Julie during clinic at the hospital, I could always tell. He was just so calm and relaxed,” she recalls. Since his last stay at the hospital, Julie now comes to the house—a service paid for by a grant from the Tommy Fund.
“I am so grateful for these treatments and that Julie can come to the house.” says Damian.
“The Tommy Fund is a great organization run by amazing people.” The reflexology program was originally started to help parents of patients. They carry a tremendous burden of caring for a child with cancer. “What ended up happening was that I would often work on the child or young adult, too, so everyone benefited,” Innocenzi recalls.
Damian was diagnosed more than three years ago with alveolar rhabdomyoscarcoma. He’s endured three years of chemotherapy. Two weeks of recent radiation therapy have made him more comfortable, as have these weekly sessions.
“It makes a big difference to me when she comes. When I was in the hospital getting chemo, the reflexology made me forget all the nasty stuff that was being put into my body. I just concentrate on the good feeling.” he says.
Those good feelings have brightened Damian’s days so he can look forward to playing guitar, which he loves, or hanging out with his two younger brothers, or dreaming about fishing in freshwater ponds near his house.
Connie Nicolosi, MSW, has witnessed the impact of the program has had on both the patients and their parents. “The other day, Julie was working on a little boy as he sat on his mother’s lap. By the time she was done, he was relaxed and ready for his visit, which was a huge help to us as staff members, but also his family, “ she noted.
Julie has performed reflexology on the hands of parents while they are waiting for their children to finish outpatient chemotherapy treatments. “Parents of children with cancer are under such terrible stress. It’s wonderful to be able to offer them something.”
She describes reflexology as helping people reach a deep state of relaxation. “You are very aware, but in another place,” she notes.
The program came about after Innocenzi participated in Nurses’ Day events at Yale-New Haven two years ago. Each year, various vendors are brought in to demonstrate new techniques or products for that day. The staff enjoyed the reflexology so much that the Child Life staff looked into establishing a program at the hospital. Thanks to a grant from the Tommy Fund, the program became a reality.
“It’s been a help in relaxing patients before and during treatment, as well as relieving the nausea they sometimes feel from the medications,” Nicolosi added. “When you can offer your patients something that can do that, it’s a real plus.” In Loving Memory and Recognition of Damian Rynkowski, who passed away from cancer, October, 2004.
The Tommy Fund was organized at Yale-New Haven in 1986 by a group of parents whose children had cancer and the physicians and staff who treated them. Together, they sought to fund programs important for the emotional and medical survival of children with cancer and their families. Through the generosity and support of both individuals and corporations, the Tommy Fund has been able to make a real difference in the lives of families at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital.
To make a donation or for information about the Tommy fund, call 203-688-4081 or 800-974-5559 www.ynhh.org/pediatrics/cancer/tommyfund.html