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Nancy Ballard’s chemo rooms rock for over half a million patients a year

by Janet Gallin.  Reposted from Examiner.com.  

Even with her corporate life behind her, Jefferson Award Winner Nancy Ballard was busy enough. Her life as a master botanical illustrator, a successful writer (third book now on the way), a wife, the mother of three children now grown, and a grandmother, did not leave her wanting for activities to fill her days. She was not looking for another project. But, a project seemed to be looking for her. And grab her it did.

On the day she went for a whooping cough vaccination to render her germ-free so she could hold her newborn grandson Dawson, her life changed drastically. The nurse, noticing the painting Nancy was carrying, mentioned how nice it would be if their chemotherapy rooms had such a painting. And, there you have it, the sentence that changed not only Nancy’s life but the lives, to date, of more than eight hundred thousand (and still counting) cancer patients a year. It was Nancy’s first glimpse of a chemotherapy room. She saw the crumbling plaster, peeling paint and rusty nail holes. This sad, drab room could not be a place of healing, and although happy to donate a piece of her art, Nancy knew that people needed better surroundings to benefit fully from treatment. She knew that a piece of art alone would make no difference. These rooms needed to be renovated physically and in spirit. The change would have to be monumental. This was a job requiring construction and design skills, lighting expertise, materials, hefty budget and a team of volunteers, none of which Nancy had.

But Nancy, it turns out, in addition to everything else, is a miracle worker with brilliant organizational skills and a limitless vision. The sight of those rooms continued to haunt her. Her husband told her she is already far too busy for another full-time project. He suggested she let it go. She could not. As she says, “wrong answer.” She went on line and found the names of twenty interior designers whose empathy seemed to blend with hers. She emailed them, introduced herself, told them she has no money to pay anyone and asked them to put their trust in a stranger who was asking for a lot. She asked them to put in their talent and time for the simple joy of making a difference in the lives of others. They would not be paid in money. Four of them who had sat in chemo rooms themselves responded and thanked her for this opportunity. They went to work.

Rooms that Rock for Chemo blossomed rather quickly into a force of its own. It is now a non-profit. She now partners with Home Depot and the San Francisco Giants. And, Nancy’s husband, who once thought she did not have time for a new project, is a large part of this effort to create places where fear and sadness give way to hope and the simple joy of being surrounded by the beauty created in hospital after hospital after hospital across the United States, San Salvador, China.

Although it may take months and years to plan every detail of a treatment room, the team has only two days to complete the actual transformation. They begin work late Friday after the last patient leaves almost straight through to early Monday morning before the first patient arrives. Come Monday morning after a weekend of labor, there is fresh paint in soothing colors, beautiful artwork on the walls, maybe a mural, stencils or new lighting, as well as privacy curtains and new chemotherapy chairs. Wherever she has gone, Nancy has enabled a kind of calm and joy that enhance a healing environment.

To listen to her talk about the creation of Rooms That Rock for Chemo and how she got an indomitable team together is to see what one person can do to change the world. Nancy’s zest is breathtaking, her stamina enviable, her enthusiasm contagious and her results life-changing for both patients and medical practitioners. Her love letter? Guaranteed to bring joy and tears.

From me to you with love in the air,

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