Cancer, like any major disease, attacks more than just the body. It affects a patient’s emotions, spirit and mindset. The situation is exacerbated by treatment protocols—chemo and radiation—that take their own toll. Helping people deal with the broader effects of cancer and related treatments was an important part of the mission when Munson Healthcare was developing the Cowell Family Cancer Center, and today patients can access an array of services, such as meditation, massage, yoga, acupuncture, nutrition counseling and more, to help them weather the emotional and spiritual storm that cancer brings.

Munson turned to somebody with an unlikely background to manage the cancer support services. Katie Horvath is an industrial and operations engineer with a law degree and a career in patent litigation. But after she endured a fight with breast cancer, she decided to devote her career to helping cancer patients.

Using a holistic approach that blends Eastern health practices with Western medicine, L.C. Horvath and her team hope to ease the impact of treatment on patients and achieve greater wellness long term. “Every protocol is evidence-based. That was important to gaining the support of the oncologists,” Horvath says. To research the methods that are now part of the support services, Horvath tapped into her training as an engineer and patent attorney and relied on researchers in the Munson medical library. “I started in February and we were up and running in four months, which for a big organization like Munson is a land speed record,” Horvath says.

The support services are a mix of free and fee-based, and while many require an appointment, some are delivered in very informal ways, adding to the holistic, supportive environment. For example, a masseuse might approach a patient in infusion and offer to do a hand massage for free.

And patient comments suggest that Horvath and her team are on the right track. One day a classical guitarist played for a meditation and music class, and when the class ended, a patient told the musician, “I don’t have a support system at home. You are my support, and you have given me a whole new day.” The team also understands the importance of supporting the patient’s personal support network. “A masseuse might see a weary family caregiver and offer a shoulder massage,” Horvath says.

Also open to patients is a health and wellness library. “There is a huge nutrition section, with books like The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen,” Horvath says. The literature echoes the whole-person, whole-life theme of the support services. Casey Cowell, a major funder of the cancer center and a survivor himself, gives a copy of the book Anti-Cancer, a New Way of Life to each patient.

“Casey challenged us to not just bench- mark, but to lead,” Horvath says.

Cowell Family Cancer Center is at 217 S. Madison St., Traverse City.

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Photo(s) by Michael Poehlman