Camden spa specializes in treating cancer patients
Camden — After spending 12 years as a home care provider in the Midcoast region, one-time nursing student and certified oncology aesthetician Sandra Sleeper said her passion for healing inspired her focus on nurturing cancer patients' spirits through caring for their skin.
She opened Seaside Spa and Skincare in 2011 and she knew she eventually wanted to run a specialized practice.
Sleeper explained that oncology-focused treatments vary considerably from services that can be performed on clients not undergoing cancer treatment. She said even routine procedures must be altered specially to reduce the risk of breaking the skin's natural barrier against infection. While Sleeper believes wholeheartedly that caring for the skin is a crucial element of whole body health, she works with great care and acknowledges the limitations of her profession.
"I don't go beyond my scope," said Sleeper. "I'm not a doctor."
Sleeper managed a local orthodontics office for several years and said that experience provided her with a background in maintaining a completely sterile environment, a condition that she said is integral to the safe treatment of clients with compromised immune systems.
"I'm so careful to keep things beyond clean," she said, adding skin is the human body's "largest organ and largest barrier against infection."
Sleeper recalled an experience where a woman wandered into her Elm Street location one day last summer, after a brief conversation the woman revealed she found out earlier that day she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sleeper said the woman was new to town, and Sleeper was able to direct her to local resources, such as the oncology department at Waldo County General Hospital where they offer patients access to their on-site Cancer Resource Center.
"Everybody out there has had cancer touch our lives in some way or another," said Sleeper. She recalled her experience a number of years ago with a friend who was going through cancer treatment.
"I didn't know how to help," she said.
The power of therapeutic touch can be immensely powerful during illness, Sleeper said. She noted that she routinely experiences clients overcome with emotion when she is administering treatment.
"It has happened so many times," she noted of clients becoming emotional during treatment.
Sleeper said treating clients with cancer is a delicate science. She attended a program in Atlanta where she received certification as an oncology aesthetician. She said one aspect of the program involved visiting cancer treatment centers at area hospitals to administer free treatments to patients.
"Basically you volunteer your time," she said.
It was during her time in Atlanta that she received a call from her father in back in Maine; he had seen an interview on the evening news with the only oncology aesthetician in Maine at the time.
Sleeper said she now knows of many treatment programs in urban areas where dermatologists and aestheticians are working together.
Sleeper said skincare and cancer treatment are routinely complementary to one another, she said the Dempsey Institute in Lewiston is underway on plans to open a specialized spa. She noted that there are an array of "horrific [skin] symptoms" that are unique to patients in care for various forms of cancer.
"There are certain [maladies] that are right across the board," she said. "I can help a host of issues or just make someone more comfortable."
Sleeper said keeping the "skin barrier healthy" is an important aspect of protecting the immune systems of cancer patients, and that there are some symptoms that should be treated only by a medical doctor. Invasive treatments, such as hot steam and exfoliating grains can invite infection.
"Certain skincare protocols must be avoided," she said. "Anything that can introduce bacteria."
She also said certain types of cancer can be adversely effected by certain ingredients in skin care products.
Sleeper said she's done a small amount of advertising to get the word out about her business, and that word-of-mouth has helped generate some business.
"I want cancer patients to know I'm here," she said. "I would really like to help."
Patients with financial concerns should not be deterred, said Sleeper, who noted she works with patients to provide healing services in an affordable way. She acknowledged that financial circumstances are different for everyone, and that she works to make payments and fees flexible when necessary.
"This is benefiting people's health," she said.
One of the oncology-approved product lines that Seaside Spa and Skincare carries has received a lot of good press recently, Sleeper said. She said the lines she carries are all geared toward cancer-safe skin care.
Sleeper said she had a very rewarding experience recently when a young client, in her 20s, was in the spa and encountered a new client who was there for the first time.
"The [regular client] turned to [the new client} and said, 'this woman will not stop until she helps you,'" said Sleeper as her eyes welled up just a bit.
In addition to their speciality in oncology, Seaside Skin Care and Spa offers a full range of spa and skincare treatments for individuals and groups. Sleeper said she also offers discounted foot care services for senior clients.
"There's nothing wrong with taking care of yourself," Sleeper said. "It's not about vanity, it goes way beyond that."
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.