Virtual reality for patients

By Suzanne Asselin

Visiting Rome, Jerusalem and other scenic locales while receiving chemotherapy treatment in the Segal Cancer Centre’s oncology clinic is now possible thanks to Virtual Reality (VR) technology. This new therapeutic approach has been realized with he support of the Marilyn Tietolman Fichman Celebration Fund, in partnership with Hope & Cope.

The fund was created 10 years ago by Marilyn Fichman in celebration of her 70th birthday. A cancer patient and former Hope & Cope volunteer, Marilyn was always attracted to new technologies and wanted to give patients the opportunity to benefit from therapeutic approaches that complemented medical care. Her daughters, Natalie Stern, Ina Fichman and Laura Beraznik, are honouring Marilyn’s memory by making virtual reality accessible to patients, transporting them to magnificent locations without having to leave their treatment chair.

“Our mother firmly believed in the power of the mind-body connection. When she was undergoing cancer treatment, she benefited tremendously from complementary therapies such as massage and meditation. She also believed that new technologies like virtual reality could help patients cope with the negative effects of treatment by offering a pleasurable escape, even if only for a few hours,” Natalie explains.

As both a Hope & Cope volunteer and a cancer patient, Marilyn Fichman recognized that patients needed different forms of support to cope with this often debilitating disease. Based on her own experience, she saw how complementary therapies could make such an important contribution to patient well-being. “I researched virtual reality goggles and realized that this technology provides such a positive and stimulating experience to patients. This project is the perfect way to honour my mother’s wishes,” says Natalie.

Natalie, Ina and Laura invite anyone interested in supporting virtual reality to contribute to this fund so that more goggles can be purchased and more videos made available. Recently, three new goggles were purchased, at a cost of close to $2000. At the moment, patients have access to more than 20 videos, but this is only the beginning!

During my chemotherapy treatments in the early 90s, I would have liked to have been able to benefit from this exciting technology, but it was not yet developed. Fortunately, innovation is at the heart of Hope & Cope, enabling patients to benefit from exciting new approaches to care as they become available.

VR goggles in Palliative Care

VR Goggles have been in use for two years now in the hospital’s Palliative Care Unit – a first for Quebec. The project was spearheaded by Rifka Hanfling, Hope & Cope’s Palliative Care Coordinator, and former volunteer Sophie Guérin. They received the enthusiastic approval of former Chief of Palliatvie Care Dr. Bernard Lapointe, who also recognized the potential benefits of this technology. (Note: the photo to the right was taken before the COVID pandemic.)

In order to study the effects of VR on patients, Rifka and her team observed and recorded patients’ physical reactions. “We asked them questions about their emotional and physical state both before and after they watched one of the 25 videos adapted for VR,“ Rifka explains. “Often, when we entered the room for the first time, patients were agitated. But as they became immersed in the VR experience, their breathing became less laboured, the tension left their faces, and they smiled.“  As an added bonus, family members were able to share this experience, creating a special memory for families to cherish.

To contribute to this fund, please call the JGH Foundation at 514 340-8251.

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