In 2004, Cynthia McHolland was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 52. For treatment, she chose Norton Healthcare and endured a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy.
McHolland is a fighter, and she wasn’t going to let a somber diagnosis steal the joy she finds in everyday life. In January of 2014, she celebrated her 10-year anniversary of being cancer-free, but in the spring, she had a pain in her hip that just wouldn’t go away.
After some testing, doctors found that the cancer had returned and was in her bones.
McHolland now receives weekly chemotherapy treatments that are both physically and emotionally taxing on her body. But yet, since November, when the new Norton Cancer Institute opened off Brownsboro Road in the East End, coming to the facility for injections isn’t something she dreads.
“I say this all the time, and I know it sounds ridiculous, but I love coming here,” McHolland says as she sits in a corner room on the third floor, awaiting the Benadryl to take effect before she gets the chemo.
The room has two sets of large windows where McHolland can look out on the world — and where sunlight can flood in. “We call this the penthouse room because of all the windows,” she jokes.
The $38 million Norton Cancer Institute Brownsboro was completed in November 2018. The state-of-the-art facility not only has the latest in cancer-fighting technology, but it also was designed with aesthetics in mind to offer a better patient experience.
It’s one of seven Norton Cancer Institutes in Kentucky.
According to Lynnie Meyer, the senior vice president and chief development officer at Norton, incorporating local art, a meditation garden and other amenities were key factors in the design from the beginning.
“At Norton Healthcare, we are committed to responding to the mind, body and spirit needs of our patients and families,” she says. “For 130-plus years, we have served the local community, and these spaces breathe humanity and healing into our programs and buildings.”
During its first month of operation, the facility served more than 1,800 patients, 245 of whom participated in the integrative health programs the center offers. These include music and art therapy, wig fittings, support groups and massage.
These programs, along with commissioned artwork, are specifically geared toward helping improve the patient’s overall mood, as well as benefitting family members and friends who accompany the patient and the facility staff, too.
“Cancer is not just a disease that afflicts the patient. It impacts the whole family — loved ones, friends, whoever is there for them,” says Dr. Joseph M. Flynn, chief administrative officer of the Norton Medical Group and physician-in-chief of the Norton Cancer Institute. Dr. Flynn also was involved in planning the new facility.
The structure definitely is not your typical brick-and-mortar doctor’s office, even though it sits among suburban shopping centers and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. From an initial glance, there are more windows than bricks.
As you approach the front door, a large overhang jets out among the slanted and curved angles of the building, creating a welcoming experience. You can see the quaint meditation garden situated to the left, with several intricate sculptures nestled among well-crafted landscaping, foliage and benches.
“For me, the feeling you get when you come into a place, especially if you’re coming in a couple times a week to get treatments, has to be different,” explains Dr. Flynn. “I’m old enough to remember the days where, before we had good anti-nausea medicine, just the smell of the hospital would cause people to throw up. Having something that helps them transcend those feelings is so important.”
Much of the artwork at the Norton Cancer Institute was funded by the Norton Healthcare Foundation, and, according to Meyer, it was selected by a committee that sent out the call for proposals to local and regional artists.
The committee wanted artwork that showcased comforting and calm imagery, as well as nature-themed elements like plants, flowers, butterflies and more. The 10 chosen artists include photographers Jamie Rhodes, Don Vish and Micro Image Photography, painters Tamara Scantland, Clare Hirn and Debra Lott, sculptors Aragorn Dick-Reed and Wenquin Chen, and a stained-glass installment by Guy Kemper.
Kemper’s vibrant piece is the backdrop of a private room meant for reflection. Titled “Falls of the Ohio,” the 13 glass panels evoke the feelings of power and strength through bold splashes of blues and yellows. It also can be seen from the meditation garden, and at nighttime, it appears to glow. But in the daytime, when the sun hits it just right, it projects rainbows all throughout the first-floor lobby.
In an artist’s statement, Kemper said he wanted to take the same feelings he gets when seeing the Falls of the Ohio and translate them to the space.
It’s a room Dr. Flynn finds himself in often.
“For me, I sit in there and look out the glass and just soak it in, and it takes me to a different place and helps me ground myself,” he says. “I think that’s the idea for everybody — whether it’s a loved one or the patient themselves — having a place to go and be enveloped by that feeling is really key.”
Dr. Flynn hopes the entire facility gives patients the same kinds of feelings. Instead of row after row of small treatment rooms, it has a warm and inviting layout complemented by its many windows, calming palette of colors and artwork.
“Our motto is we want to cure cancer and eliminate suffering,” says Dr. Flynn. “The building is just a place to get care, but what does it give you that’s much more than that? The whole process is something I look back on fondly about how we were able to start from basically a field and end up with, to me, the foremost care building in the whole region. It touches on all different levels.”
Also located on the first floor is Clare Hirn’s “We All Reflect,” a 5-foot-by-5 large-scale painting that blends realism with abstraction. The bright, vertical piece hangs in the lobby and incorporates many circles into its design. The artist equates that to the circle of life.
“The rhythm of a circle as it radiates out has no stop and start,” Hirn said in her artist’s statement. “The cycle of life does not favor one particular arc over another.”
On the second floor, you’ll find Debra Lott’s “Healing Hands,” a series of four paintings showing two hands comforting one another. Each hand represents a different race, gender and age — showing how cancer does not discriminate.
Also on the second floor is a rotating exhibition of artwork created by cancer patients all around the country. The interactive display is made up of photos, paintings and sketches and includes personal stories about each piece.
And on the third floor, there is Tamara Scantland’s “Comfort of Nature,” a bright and intricate watercolor painting of a backyard garden, which just so happens to be inspired by the patient Cynthia McHolland’s own garden.
McHolland and Scantland have been friends for some time, and McHolland says the artist came over once to take some photos. She says it was fascinating watching the painting develop over the course of a few months, and she loves how Scantland hid some elements — like a ladybug and other insects — that you notice the longer you look at the piece.
Now, whenever McHolland comes to the facility for treatment, she passes by the image of her own garden — an image that immediately lifts her mood.
“It does lift my spirits because it’s so bright. It’s got the sun. We live on the river, so it’s got the river and a sunrise. The painting is full of light,” beams McHolland. “You hear other people talk about it, too. The way she did it kind of looks like the sunrise is almost dissolving into the flowers. All the colors are complementary to each other.”
McHolland reaches for her phone to show off a picture of her real garden. She explains that some of the flowers in the painting are relatable to other women receiving treatment at the facility as well because each year she dries seeds and brings them in to share.
To McHolland, her garden means much more than a cluster of flowers or an excuse to go outside.
“I started the garden in the back of the house thinking it would need me, that I would keep it alive,” she says. “But I found that I need it — it keeps me alive.”
Below is a further look at the art incorporated into the Norton Cancer Institute’s design.