Alternative Therapies and Lifestyle

Cancer Patients Need Down Time, Too, so Sloan Kettering Created the “Cancer Lounge”

+ CV Skinlabs Team

No one likes spending time in a hospital. Fortunately, most people are in and out within a few days-a week at the most. But many cancer patients find themselves walking the white hallways for several weeks at a time, even months. After so much watching television and playing board games, boredom sets in, and boredom leads one to think too much-usually worrisome and anxious thoughts.

“There’s a lot of time with nothing to do,” said Yolanda Toth, adult recreation center director at Sloan Kettering. “After you’ve counted all the holes in the ceiling of your room…and watched enough television, you’re pretty bored. And then you start thinking-what’s going to happen to me?”

Fortunately, Sloan Kettering has a place “where everybody knows your name,” so to speak, but there’s no alcohol involved. Called the “Cancer Lounge,” or recreation center, it’s where cancer patients can go to enjoy themselves for awhile, and forget about everything they’re going through. Pool, poker, pottery, and several other leisure-time activities go on here, all to give patients a place where they can talk to each other and feel at home.

“It’s enjoyable here,” said Mr. Gugliotta, a chemical engineer from Long Island. “And it’s where you can talk about what’s inside you, because it’s inside everyone here.”

The idea is catching on, though probably slower than most cancer patients would like. It’s called “recreational therapy,” and basically means that activities such as games, arts and crafts, music, social interactions, humor, even learning new things can all help a cancer patient feel more in control of his/her life situation. “By giving patients opportunities to create, laugh, and play,” says, “the program puts a sense of choice and control back in their hands.” A study by the National Cancer Institute, in fact, is currently examining how well animal-assisted therapy and recreational therapy works in relieving distress in cancer patients undergoing treatment for pain.

The NIH Clinical Center also offers recreational therapy, including programs on relaxation, personal fitness, animal-assisted therapy, healthy cooking, arts and crafts, yoga and meditation, and skin care and makeup. But unfortunately, not enough medical centers have comparable areas where cancer patients can go to just relax and be themselves. Many researchers and recreational therapists are trying to change that.

“Recreational therapists are in a position to capitalize on the free and expressive nature of leisure-based interventions to facilitate spiritual growth and development that may aid in recovery from illness,” says Dr. Diane Groff, Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In Dr. Groff’s research with breast cancer patients, she writes, “Many women spoke of how having opportunities to be creative during recreation therapy was an important step in beginning a new healthy life.”

If you find yourself enduring long hospital stays as part of your cancer treatment, consider taking part in whatever recreational therapies the facility offers. Ask your doctors, nurses, and oncologists for recommendations. If there is no current recreational therapy program at your medical center, consider changing to another medical center, or engaging in a recreational plan of your own. Ask friends and family to bring in materials for crafts you may be interested in, take lessons with a teacher to learn a new musical instrument or creative skill, or request a deck of cards or video game. Even when you’re in the hospital, if you can find a way to enjoy some of the time spent there, you’re more likely to get better, faster.

Does your medical center have a robust recreational therapy program? Let us know.

Photo courtesy meddygarnet via

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