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Healing reaches beyond body

You've read it in books and heard it in speeches, and now it's even in the formal invitation to this year's Morton Plant Hospital Charity Ball:

Healing involves the mind and spirit as well as the body.

That is understood by increasing numbers of patients and doctors, especially when the diagnosis is the terrifying one of cancer.

It is why Morton Plant's Cancer Patient Support Services program, the only one of its kind in the Southeast, is hailed as a critical part of modern medicine and will receive the proceeds from this year's charity ball.

The Morton Plant Foundation's 1993 report refers to the program, popularly known as CaPSS, as "an important and exciting area of cancer treatment . . . aimed at meeting the psychological, social and spiritual needs of cancer patients and their families."

The program includes individual counseling of cancer patients and relatives, support groups, classes in relaxation and imagery, groups devoted to exercise, art therapy and spirituality.

CaPSS' licensed counselors often are present when a cancer diagnosis is delivered to the patient or immediately after. They determine what personal support a patient has, since many transplanted Floridians have left relatives up North.

The counselors answer and anticipate patients' questions about cancer, sit with them during chemotherapy, hold their hand in the recovery room after surgery _ "whatever it takes to get them adjusted to what is going on in their life."

Those were the words of Meta Gustafson, the program's director since its inception 2{ years ago. She has been at Morton Plant for 13 years, starting as a social worker when the Lykes Center for Radiation Therapy opened. She remembers accompanying on their rounds some oncologists who really didn't see any point to what she was doing.

In stark contrast today, she said, there are 59 physicians and surgeons "who want us around. . . . It's remarkable, really spectacular!"

Quoting again from the Morton Plant Foundation's annual report, "Because of CaPSS, cancer patients at Morton Plant have an understanding friend with whom to share their concerns and fears. Patients are relieved of the terrible aloneness that comes with cancer. They are given hope, counseling, education . . .

"Families are changed from guilt-stricken bystanders into knowledgeable supporters who can assist the patient."

These cancer support services are provided free, not only to Morton Plant patients but to anyone who asks for help. That's why this year's charity ball proceeds will go to CaPSS.

Tickets for the black-tie dinner-dance the evening of March 5 at the Belleview Mido Resort Hotel are $200 per person. Call Patsy Neel at 462-7155.

Meta said she will use some of the money raised to buy more books, tapes and videos for CaPSS' resource library. That "library" is still mostly on a cart, but by early next year it will be in a permanent home of its own. CaPSS now operates out of borrowed and shared space throughout the hospital, but will occupy half of the first floor of the Powell Cancer Center, for which ground was broken Feb. 5.

The work of people like Meta and her fellow counselors has come of age. Talk about the "mind-body connection" is no longer shunned.

"Medicine is becoming de-mystified," Meta said. "People have become empowered. People want a hospital that treats the whole person."