Serious health care in a relaxed atmosphere

When Lee Derr received a brochure in the mail from the Women's Place, she glanced at it and tossed it aside. But fate intervened, and that same afternoon her doctor called with bad news - Derr had breast cancer.

"I was panicked," said Derr, 48, of Westminster. "I immediately thought I was going to die."


Derr said she remembered the brochure contained an article about how the center staff helped navigate people through breast cancer.

After calling the center, in the Carroll Hospital Center on Stoner Avenue in Westminster, Derr said it changed her life.


Four years later, she is a peer consultant and a continuing patron at the center, which opened in 1999.

With services for women with a variety of health issues, the facility offers screenings, diagnostic testing, complementary health, a cancer boutique, and classes and lectures on issues related to women's health.

Newest to the repertoire is a hot stone massage, which the center added after finding out that other places offered the specialty massage to patients, said Eileen Overfelt, women's services coordinator at the center.

"We add things all the time," said Overfelt, who has been at the center since its inception. "We assess the needs of the patients and try to offer things that will enhance the treatment they are receiving. Our services are always used in conjunction with Western medicine." The staff works with patients from the sign of detection, she said. "We are the patient's cancer care navigators," said Overfelt. "We help them with everything from education to appearance-related cancer side effects."

The center includes a boutique that offers wigs - ranging from $100 to $170 - as well as free hats and turbans, Overfelt said.

"We schedule appointments and bring the patients in and help them select a wig," she said. "Then we give them a free turban or a hat. We also have post-mastectomy bras and breast prostheses. We help teach the women what to expect, before it happens, if possible."

Sometimes understanding what is happening can head off anxiety, Derr said.

"They need someone to help them understand what's going to happen," she said. "It helps alleviate some of the fear. Just to talk to somebody can make a world of difference."


Another service offered to the patients is assistance through the Red Devils, a Maryland-based organization named for a common chemotherapy drug known for its red color.

The organization funds services to improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their families. Services offered may include housecleaning, meal preparation or activities.

"We assess what a patient might need, and then co-coordinate with the Red Devils to get the services for our patients," Overfelt said. "To be eligible, the patient just has to be going through chemotherapy or radiation."

Complementary services at the center include yoga, prenatal yoga, health treatments, acupuncture and the hot stone massage.

"We were one of the first places in the county to offer these types of services," said Overfelt. "Every hospital has different models to assist the patients."

Performed by a contracted massage therapist, the hot stone massage is done in a dimly lit room.


The one-hour massage costs $65 at the center, about half the cost at a spa. The therapist heats stones in 120- to 150-degree water, then uses traditional strokes of Swedish massage while holding a heated stone.

"For some people, the massage treatments help reduce their stress and anxiety," Overfelt said. "The treatments aren't for everyone, but for many women, it helps them cope."

Derr concurred.

"I've finished my treatment, but I still go back for massage and reflexology treatments," she said. "The Women's Place helped me more than the breast cancer center where I was treated. They never made me feel like they were too busy. I embraced Eileen as part of my family. She kept me positive and centered. I didn't go down into the dark abyss."

The center reaches out beyond the patients to the community, said Teresa Fletcher, former director of the center.

"The Carroll Collector's Club holds a Bingo for Breast Cancer," she said. "Over the past six years they have raised about $40,000. Another community member had a birthday party and instead of presents she asked people to send donations to the breast center."