This year's Saint Al's Festival of Trees helps ease cancer patients pain with VR tech


In the rectangular treatment rooms in Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center’s Cancer Care Center, windows line one side, allowing patients to gaze over Boise — its bundles of trees and rolling Foothills beyond.

Along another wall, several cabinets, a painting and a small TV offer a home-like visage. Facing them, a large, cushioned chair sits in the center.

There, patients undergoing chemotherapy can sit or walk around connected to an I.V. anywhere from a few hours to the entire day — sometimes in significant pain. Hospital staff, caregivers and loved ones do what they can to bring comfort, despite the emotional hardship, and with the growth of the Treasure Valley, these 10 bays are not enough.

Now, the hospital wants to improve and expand its Cancer Care Center and use virtual reality technology to ease patient’s pain. This year St. Al’s hopes to raise more than $600,000 for the project at its annual holiday fundraiser Festival of Tree.

The 2018 Festival of Trees runs from Nov. 20 to Nov. 26 in Downtown Boise. Now in its 35th iteration, the Boise Centre, 850 W. Front St., will once again play host to a dazzling display of lights, hundreds of wreaths and more than 80 trees, all decorated in various styles. Since it began, this event has raised over $10 million for different St. Al’s departments. Last year it drew more than 30,000 visitors.


St. Al’s chemo treatment bay.jpg

This is one of the current chemotherapy bays in the Cancer Treatment Center at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. The focus of the 2018 Festival of Trees is to expand and improve these bays and adding virtual reality technology.

Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center

Today’s Cancer Care Center accommodates 30 patients daily, and the new bays could accommodate 45 patients — a 50 percent increase in capacity.

According to Keri Monson, nursing supervisor for cancer care infusion at Saint Alphonsus, this increase will not just increase capacity, but also allow the hospital to offer more flexibility to patients.

“With the expansion, we’re going to make sure patients are able to live their life while undergoing treatment,” Monsonsaid. “Their first priority is their life, and we can work around their schedule with more capacity and more chairs.”

Why VR?

The improvement to existing facilities will include the expansion of treatment rooms, more comfortable chairs and the introduction of virtual reality technology to help ease pain and anxiety in patients.

“(It’s) the opportunity to just escape,” said Shelly Gorman, regional service line directory for oncology and general surgery. “Many patients experience a lot of pain and it’s emotionally draining, so we can give them the ability to be lost somewhere else for hours. It’s something that more unusual and innovative but definitely empirically based.”

According to a review of multiple studies in The Clinical Journal of Pain, virtual reality provides a distraction in the brain significant enough to help relieve pain in multiple treatment scenarios, including chemotherapy. While several studies are still being done to determine why this is the case, one general explanation is that pain itself requires attention. The complete immersion of virtual reality takes much of the patient’s attention away from the source of their discomfort, almost re-contextualizing the sensation. At the very least, patients using VR report having a much more pleasant treatment processes.

In addition, accommodations for caregivers and family members will also be improved. Saint Alphonsus will also increase its clinical trials and studies attempting to find more effective treatments.

While the festival has come to be a holiday tradition in the Treasure Valley, for patients and professionals at the Cancer Care Center, this year represents an opportunity to make life easier — even if only a little — for those who need in most.

“We don’t feel our patients should just get by,” Gorman said. “People with cancer deserve to be treated in a place that feels like a sanctuary, and this helps us get there.”


1123 St Als Festival of Trees Gala Gallery 24.JPG

Attendees socialize at the 2016 Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees Gala was held at the Boise Centre in Boise, Idaho. That year the glittering event saught to raise thousands of dollars for the regional medical center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Kyle Green kgreen@idahostatesman.com

2018 Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees

10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday (Senior Day) and Friday, Nov. 24 (Family Day) and Nov. 25, and 2-9 p.m. Thursday, Boise Centre, 850 W. Front St. $8 adults, $5 military, $5 children 3-12, $5 62 and older, free for 2 and younger.

$8 Adults, $5 Military, $5 Children 3-12, $5 Seniors 62 and older, Children 2 and under get in free.

Special events: Gala: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, SOLD OUT; Fashion Show Luncheon: 11 a.m. Nov. 26, $70 general, $125 premiere.

Find more info at SaintAlphonsus.org.

Canyon County Festival of Trees

1-7 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 24, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 25, Ford Idaho Center, 16200 N. Idaho Center Blvd., Nampa. $5 Adults,, $3 Seniors 62 and older, $15 Family up to six members

Special events: Gala Dinner and Auction: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 26, $100 now through Nov. 20; Paint and Sip Night: 7-9 p.m. Nov. 24, $40.

Find more info at CanyonCountyFestivalOfTree.com

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