The language of cancer is grim: chemotherapy, radiation, lumpectomy, mastectomy, bone marrow transplant.
But cancer survivor Sandra J. Wing, 53, has introduced a different vocabulary for cancer patients in the Tri-Valley: acupuncture, acupressure, meditation, guided imagery, therapeutic massage.
She found these therapies extremely helpful as she underwent a hysterectomy then chemotherapy after she was diagnosed at age 47 with uterine and ovarian cancer.
"Fortunately I had a friend who was also an oncology nurse and she was the first person I reached out to," Wing said. "I didn't know what to do or where to go."
Her friend told her she should try healing therapies to reduce anxiety and stay positive, and Gracie Santos, her partner of 18 years, insisted on it.
"Gracie was determined to keep my mind positive," Wing recalled. "I have to credit her with having the strength and passion to keep me focused on forward movement."
Chemotherapy left Sandra unable to perform the simplest of tasks, she recalled, with her body feeling battered, beaten and achy.
She started with acupressure, guided imagery and deep breathing, which distracted her from the anxiety she was feeling. She found that even at her sickest and weakest she was receptive to these healing therapies.
At one point she almost had to suspend her chemotherapy when the tips of her fingers and toes were impacted by neuropathy. But acupuncture sessions reduced the symptoms and she was able to complete the chemo treatments.
Wing received her acupressure massage and guided meditation at UCSF's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, feeling fortunate that she could pay for them because complementary treatments are not covered by insurance.
"Medical bills are one of many worries for cancer patients," she noted.
And so she began to form the idea of a foundation to help other patients pay for the healing therapies.
"I had my last chemotherapy treatment in April 2007, and in August 2008 I started working on the foundation," she said. "I got the initial board members in place by January 2009 and applied for being a corporation. We started issuing money in July 2009."
The website, www.healingtherapiesfoundation.org, has a simple application form, which needs to be signed by a patient's oncologist. Grants are typically $500, and recipients can reapply.
"The first year we gave out 12, the second year it was 24," Wing recalled. "The word was getting out, by word-of-mouth referrals and doctors."
This year the foundation is on track to give out 100.
"There's a big shift in recent years, in our local area," Wing said, "with oncology folks seeing the benefits of complementary therapies. We do want patients to focus on their cancer treatments, and we focus on the mind, body and spirit."
Oncologist Ricardo Da Roza talks in a video on the website about how important this holistic approach is in caring for his patients.
"There's science, there's medicine, and there's a sense of well-being that's so essential to the healing process in the recovery of patients," he says.
Other patients note that healing therapies also give them something to look forward to, a bright spot in their week.
The Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation is run 100% by volunteers. They put together a string of fundraisers that run throughout the fall under the name Party Palooza, then host the annual Ragin' Cajun at Mardi Gras time. This year it takes place March 8 at the Palm Event Center.
"Gracie is the passionate uber volunteer," Wing said. "She is the flag bearer and spokeswomen and not only encourages me but also all the volunteers. She's going to be volunteer chair in January."
Wing, who works fulltime as a project manager for Xerox, said her favorite part of Ragin' Cajun is hearing testimonials from patients.
"It's one of the rare moments that I get to interact with the patients and the volunteers, as well," she said.
She receives calls from around the United States asking if she knows of such an organization in their areas but says she knows of no others besides hers.
"As a board it's our desire is to grow," she said, "to Walnut Creek, Castro Valley, Fremont. We like to say we're in the Bay Area, then California then nationwide."
"I started this thinking if could just help one person," Wing said. Now she is gratified "to see it grow and see the need out there, and to know I'm making a difference."
* Sandra J. Wing has lived and worked in Pleasanton for over 25 years in executive leadership positions and as an entrepreneur.
* She has a BS and MBA in business management.
* For 10 years, she taught undergraduate and graduate business students at the University of Phoenix.
* She is a U.S. Army veteran. She received an Army Commendation medal and an Expert Marksman medal.
* She is on the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce Foundation Board of Directors.
* She and her pooch Dori have done dog therapy at the VA center in Livermore and Villa San Ramon.
* She's from Milwaukee but after visiting California she hopped in her car, put whatever fit into the back seat, and moved out here.
* She became a football fan when she fell in love with Joe Montana and the 49ers.
* She stops drinking caffeine a month before Ragin' Cajun because the fundraiser is such a high for her.
* She and Gracie are movie buffs; as of Nov. 26 they had already seen "Argo," "Lincoln," "Skyfall" and "Life of Pi."
* On Nov. 16 she passed her sixth anniversary of being cancer-free. On her fifth anniversary, she went to Universal Studios to go on the Harry Potter ride and "be a child again."