Topics: Survivor Stories
June 25, 2019
By: Lori McNeill
Do you ever feel like you were meant to do something ... as if your life has guided you toward serving a particular purpose? Or even that you’ve come full circle from one point in your life to a similar place, but as a changed person from the journey?
“I’m a spiritual person, and I believe God brought me full circle,” said Mareta Childs, Founder and Executive Director of Loving Hands of Healing Hope, a Tucson non-profit that provides spa services to those going through cancer treatments.
Mareta does seem to have come full circle to bring an idea to fruition: from supporting cancer patients as a single volunteer, to receiving support from friends during her own cancer journey, to providing support on a broader scale with a team through her salon and spa.
Years ago, a friend of Mareta’s worked for the former Tucson non-profit Sunstone Cancer Support Centers, coordinating their retreats. Mareta, a Tucson stylist and aesthetician, worked with her to offer free facials for those who went to Sunstone for therapy or retreats.
“That’s where it started, but Sunstone went away,” said Mareta. Sunstone closed down in 2009, citing financial difficulties, and Mareta stopped volunteering for a while, she says.
In 2010, she started her own business, Garden of Eden Healing Salon & Spa, located on Tucson’s east side. And on December 27, 2011, Mareta was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Your life just changes at that point,” said Mareta.
What followed that diagnosis were doctor visits, multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments over 14 months. Mareta continued running her business and working as a stylist and aesthetician, adjusting her work schedule to work around treatments and appointments.
“I never once thought I was going to die,” said Mareta. “I just thought: ‘I’m fighting.’”
Yet even through all of the procedures and treatments, the hard work, and the disease fighting she was going through, what Mareta vividly remembers is the “unbelievable support” and how cared for she felt by friends and loved ones. “People say they care,” she said, “but I have never felt so loved in my entire life.”
In addition to delivering an abundance of food to her home, friends pitched in to pay her rent when Mareta was afraid she might lose her new business. While she was in the chemotherapy chair, one of the Arizona Oncology nurse advocates offered her house cleaning. During her chemotherapy, two of her girlfriends went with her every Monday and kept her company for the three to four hours the infusion process took.
Another friend of Mareta’s—who had also been diagnosed with cancer—treated Mareta to reflexology while she was going through cancer treatment. Reflexology is the application of alternating pressure, not unlike in massage, to the feet, hands, and outer ears to help reduce stress, and Mareta was moved by how much better she felt afterwards. Having offered support in the past to those going through a trying time, Mareta was now realizing just how much that support can mean to the recipient.
“I told my Mom and Dad, it’s horrible, no one wants to go through this, but I have never felt so loved in my entire life.”
“I’m going to start a non-profit"
It was during one of her chemo treatments, in a half-asleep moment, Mareta said, when an idea came to her. Her spark of inspiration from her past volunteer work and her current situation and support system was ignited into a plan: “I’m going to start a non-profit,” she told her friend. Mareta had decided she was going to provide spa treatments for those going through cancer treatment.
“When I told my friends my idea, I thought it was so weird that I went full circle,” she commented.
Mareta’s friend of 25 years, Julie McCoy, accompanied Mareta during a hydration treatment, and listened to her plan. Having earned a business degree from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, Julie started looking into what it takes to form a non-profit. Within a year, they made it happen, and Loving Hands of Healing Hope was born, with Mareta and her team providing spa and salon services and Julie helping with digital marketing and communications.
Loving Hands of Healing Hope
Loving Hands of Healing Hope raises funds to provide free integrative spa and cosmetic services to women and men undergoing treatment for cancer, particularly those who might not be able to afford these services. The goal is to help them achieve balance, relaxation and added self-esteem while dealing with side effects and invasive treatments. Services include facials, massage therapy, reflexology, cranio-sacral therapy, manicures and pedicures, hands, feet, and scalp treatments, and haircuts and styling. All service providers are licensed practitioners of their services, and when available, providers have special certification in working with oncology patients.
Cancer patients are referred to Loving Hands of Healing Hope by their doctors or nurses, or they can download a referral form from the non-profit's website, www.lovinghandsofhealinghope.org, and have it signed by their medical provider. Those going through cancer treatment receive four spa/salon services during their treatment cycle, free of charge. Additional services are offered at a discounted rate until cancer treatment is completed.
In the early days of her non-profit, Mareta started by giving hand treatments in Arizona Oncology infusion rooms, where she’d received her chemo. She then moved to providing treatments out of her salon and spa, which has recently expanded to include two spacious and relaxing massage rooms and a pretty patio area in addition to the initial salon space. Nurses still refer to her, she says.
"It is so important to me that when I see someone who is going through cancer treatment that we not only address the disease, but that we recognize the whole person," said Jonlyn McGettigan, a nurse practitioner with Arizona Oncology. "There are so many appointments - patients can feel overwhelmed, and also grieve for the life they led before their diagnosis. I feel fortunate that we are able to refer patients to many services that can help ease symptoms and provide respite from chemotherapy and medical appointments. I have had so many patients benefit from acupuncture, nutrition counseling, and support groups. Loving Hands of Healing Hope is another amazing resource and I am thrilled to be able to offer this to my patients."
“It makes me feel so good, and that’s why I do it,” Mareta commented.
She’s not the only one who feels good as a result of Loving Hands of Healing Hope. Mareta shared that she receives emails from women and men about how a one-hour treatment made such a huge difference in the recipient’s attitude. It’s not surprising. When a person’s life becomes focused on appointments and treatments and side effects, it can be soothing and grounding to have a spa treatment provide another focus for a while, in addition to positive results that can be felt and seen. As Mareta experienced, it can make a person feel truly cared for and supported. Hearing that she’s made others feel better during a challenging time, she says, “It makes it all worthwhile.”
Mareta’s non-profit has been serving the Tucson community for five years now. Cancer free for seven years, Mareta continues to be an inspiration to her clients, her community, and her friends at Arizona Oncology.