Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Zion, Illinois, strives to keep patients comfortable during their cancer journey with the help of comprehensive, supportive care services. Animal-assisted therapy is among the many services offered through the mind-body medicine department at all five CTCA® hospitals, including CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center (Midwestern), located outside Chicago. The animal-assisted therapy program uses trained therapy dogs to offer patients companionship and unconditional affection. The positive feelings these visits typically generate may help patients find relief from cancer-related stress.
The Illinois cancer center is home to Cynthia Ingram, Animal Therapy Coordinator, and her Australian Labradoodle therapy dog partner, Tori. The pair have a long working relationship that predates their work at Midwestern. Before they were permitted to work with cancer patients, Ingram and Tori participated together in a year’s worth of training, health screenings and tests. Ingram is also educated on industry best practices and standard operating procedures. The two are required to retest together every two years to maintain their credentials through the Pet Partners program (formerly Delta Society), and Tori must also pass health evaluations twice a year.
Today, the animal-assisted therapy team makes rounds at the Chicago-area cancer center. By visiting patients at Midwestern, Ingram and Tori offer a distraction and strive to bring comfort to patients, their families and caregivers, all of whom are dealing with their own cancer-related stress. Petting the therapy dog may release endorphins that boost the patient’s well-being.
Some patients who feel isolated during treatment or unable to adequately express their feelings may find comfort in the unconditional, uncomplicated friendship and support a therapy dog may offer. The short, supervised visits may trigger good feelings that distract patients from their pain and worry.