Published in the newspaper “Ta Nea” (The News) on September 29, 2017 , by Katerina Rovva
A 24-year-old woman, happy and dynamic, left as inheritance after her death a wish to see spaces in hospitals for creative engagement and psychological support for patients. The beginning was the General Oncology Hospital Kifisias Agioi Anargyroi.
In October 2016, a 24-year-old law student, Emmanouela Vernikou, left us beaten by cancer. Just before, however, she succeeded in becoming known through her blog www.scarsandscarves.com, where she shared her personal story inspiring thousands of people whose chronic conditions excluded them from life. “My name is Emma and I am 24. I study law, but recently decided to change course and study marketing for nonprofit organizations. After a series of chemotherapy treatments, radiation therapy, biopsies, physical therapy and an experimental bone marrow transplant, I decided to share my experiences with you. The good, the bad, the happy times, laughter and tears, adventures and moments when I thought I was part of a science fiction movie. And all this, so I can work to break the taboos that surround cancer, to show that life does not end there, but rather begins,” she wrote.
Emma, a happy and dynamic young woman, refused to give up on life even when her body could no longer endure. And all the things she could not complete, are now being continued by people who shared her wishes. Her mother Eleni Tzavara, her sister Anastasia and some friends recently set up the nonprofit organization PAMEMMAZI and now begin to realize one of Emma’s greatest dreams: the establishment of spaces for creative activities inside hospitals in Greece, activities that provide psychological and emotional support of patients. The organization’s goal is to bring into the sanitized space of the hospital a taste of the “outside world” where patients are able to continue to live…
THE INITIAL STRUCTURE. The work began at the General Oncology Hospital Kifisias Agioi Anargyroi where the very first such creative space is being established. “The idea began from Emma herself, who had lived for some time in the United States where she went for treatments,” explains to Nea her sister Anastasia Vernikou. “While she was there, she saw how the system worked and developed her own worldview, a philosophical stance that life should continue even when you are ill. In the National Institutes of Health where she received treatment, patients were invited to participate in creative activities parallel with their treatments. So, she wanted to bring something similar to Greece. What really propelled her into action was that, upon her return, she had to check in to a Greek hospital. In the neighboring room was a 16-year-old teenager who had already been in the hospital for one year, because he had a weak immune system. The only activity that this young man could do (and in fact did) was to be on a PlayStation all day. He came from a place far from Athens, had no visitors, and stayed in a hospital room excluded from any other activity,” she adds.
A GREAT RESPONSE. The room where PAMEMMAZI will host its recreational and educational activities at the Oncology Hospital in Kifisia has already been furnished, and the response from people who had met Emma through her blog and who wish to volunteer contributions is impressive. “In two weeks, about 100 people responded saying they wanted to help, while several hospitals have expressed interest,” says Anastasia Vernikou. “In the first phase, we begin activities twice a week with 15 volunteers who are experts in the activities they will lead. We will have music therapy with a volunteer who has worked in this area at an oncology hospital in the United States, yoga lessons, knitting; we will offer movie therapy and discussion, book reading, etc.”
SURVEY. “The General Oncology Hospital in Kifisia has about 160 patients and three units. We have already distributed questionnaires, and patients have shown great interest,” says Anastasia. “Our goal is to increase our hours of operation, and also to expand our activities in all hospitals in Greece. Emma had already been working on this overall concept. She was developing it and considering the legal set up of such an operation. She was planning it, but had no time to implement it,” she notes. “We share her passion for this work, and this is why we are moving forward…”
20-21 OCTOBER. Two-day Forum at the American College of Greece. PAMEMMAZI is organizing its first forum on October 20 and 21 at the American College of Greece in Agia Paraskevi. It is entitled, “Psychosomatic care in cancer: empathy, understanding and communication.” The forum aims to emphasize the importance of empathy at all levels of psychosomatic care, and also the need for a wholistic approach to cancer care at all its phases. The forum invites patients, families and health professionals as well as all who wish to learn, and bring special focus on the special needs of teenagers and young adult patients.