When three of his four children were going through cancer treatments, Bob Milner, longtime resident of The Woodlands and co-owner of Mercedes-Benz of The Woodlands, said there was no place in the Greater Houston area—or in the state of Texas for that matter—that could provide his family with the support they needed.

Today, Milner sits on the advisory council of Canopy, a nonprofit cancer survivorship center launched in July 2016, which he said provides the care his family—and many other families affected by cancer—sought.

“In my mind, cancer is one of the worst things we face in the world today,” Milner said. “When someone hears the words, ‘You have cancer,’ it’s debilitating. It’s emotionally crushing for you and your family, and for those reasons, Canopy is important. This is the place to go if you have any type of relationship with cancer.”

Located inside Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, officials said Canopy is the first-of-its-kind center, which offers programs and services to address the emotional, physical and social needs of cancer patients, their caregivers and family members in a nonclinical setting.

“You don’t have to be a Memorial Hermann patient to come to Canopy,” said Linda Nelson, director of marketing for Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. “Anybody on earth can come here—we can have patients, their caregivers, their family members or even just people in the community who want to learn more about cancer. Everybody is welcome.”

The project, funded by philanthropic support through the Memorial Hermann Foundation and nonprofit Memorial Hermann In the Pink of Health, took two years to build.

Nelson said the concept was developed after she and a team from Memorial Hermann visited similar concepts in Maine and Ohio. The team also sought feedback from three focus groups—one each for patients, caregivers and providers—in project development.

“Everyone said they wanted this to be connected to a hospital so that if a patient has just been diagnosed with cancer, they can come directly here,” Nelson said. “They also said they did not want it to be clinical or look like a hospital, so we worked hard to make it very cozy and homelike.”

The nonprofit has served more than 7,500 people touched by cancer since its inception and depends on the generosity of 70 volunteers, Nelson said.

Patient programs

The center hosts roughly 54 programs each month and features several rooms, each with a specific purpose. The kitchen is used for cooking demonstrations by local chefs and nutrition classes for cancer patients, their caregivers and their children.

The activities center can be converted for a variety of purposes from Ask the Doctor events and educational classes to tai chi, Pilates and yoga, while art therapy, knitting, crocheting and jewelry-making take place in the gathering room, Nelson said.

Additionally, the center has a salon where patients can host a head shaving party with their friends and family, pick out a wig or head scarf or get fitted for a breast prosthesis and bra by a trained fitter—all at no cost.

“All of our volunteers are certified for wig-fitting and prosthesis-fitting,” Nelson said. “We have more than 300 wigs and silk scarves to choose from. We also do the Look Good, Feel Better program, which teaches patients how to give themselves eyebrows with makeup, how to fit their wigs better and how to do their silk scarves.”

Canopy also offers a resource library featuring UT Health’s database and PubMed, in addition to massage therapy and activities for Spanish speakers. The center features a playroom for children of cancer patients.

In the future, Nelson and Milner said the organization is hoping to diversify its funding sources. They also hope to host more events during the evenings and weekends to accommodate those who work during the week.

“Once you walk through those doors, Canopy becomes part of you—not just from a need-basis but from a give-basis,” Milner said. “Canopy changes you, and The Woodlands is a viral community when it comes to service.”