The conversation around cancer and its relationship with the spa experience is ever louder thanks to the proactive approach of industry leaders such as Julie Bach, but the founder of the Wellness for Cancer movement – because it really is a movement – heralded a subtle but important point for 2018. This is no longer a conversation about how we deal with cancer in spas, this is a conversation about personalised wellness.
Once a management consultant training corporate America in the high tech space, Bach moved to Vail when the dot-com market blew up and instead bought a spa in a dramatic career change. As her business thrived, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, a blow in any scenario, but even more so as her father had also died of the all-pervading disease: “I had spent about 15 years of my life with parents in and out of cancer centres,” she recalls.
The two conflating circumstances set Bach on a journey that she is now very much spearheading: “I had bought a spa and my mother was at such a low point, begging to be touched, begging to be treated. My ex-husband was a chiropractor and he noticed the value of personalised attention my mother could receive and benefit from.” Bach teamed up with doctors to train her staff and when her mother went back into the local cancer centre after being a month at Bach’s spa, the hospital saw the difference in her and they started sending people to the spa for cancer treatments. That was in 2001.
Word spread and more and more people were sent to Bach, and in 2010 she registered the organisation as a charity. Things developed and to avoid a conflict of interests she sold one spa and closed the other in what had become a successful business in its own right: “I started sending people to spas with a mobile gift card app and spas rejected clients. So de facto I had to go into training. I went in to show people how to do things differently and from there I was offered funding and aligned with specialists to create training.”
Here was where Bach really found her stride and her belief that the important thing about wellbeing is personalisation: “There’s no one protocol in the way we train. Just as doctors can personalise oncology we can personalise training programmes – you can’t just give a generic treatment to people.” It was this mantra that saw Bach named a leading woman in wellness at the Global Wellness Summit for her ability to help people touched by cancer to find spas that can help them, viewing training as a component in a much wider approach about enabling people to find spas and keeping spa credentials up to date by taking a yearly refresher course to stay abreast of new information on cancer and integration of new wellness concepts.
Combined with a personal interest in overcoming her own genetic potential through a healthy lifestyle and a wellbeing approach, she is now a wellness trainer and an advocate in hospitals on how to touch and be with people with cancer. Her approach is one that goes beyond ‘disease care’; she is shifting her terminology to really get to the heart of what she understands from her extensive experience: “I originally coined the term ‘cancer aware’ as it’s about being aware of the client needs, understanding the cancer journey, the psychological and the social as well as the physical, but it’s not about providing a cancer-specific service, it’s being aware of cancer. We shy away from ‘cancer care’ on treatment menus because in truth this isn’t about disease, this is about wellness – whatever stage of wellness you might be at.”
Now with her services stretching into 30 countries and billed for over 60 countries, maybe even 80, this year through her partnership with Biologique Recherche, Bach’s message goes beyond cancer: “This isn’t about cancer; not everyone wants to be defined by their cancer, and a spa experience is supposed to be a break from it. As a therapist you are asking questions that are pertinent to the treatment, not someone’s cancer – that’s the difference.”
Certainly there is information you need to know and Bach’s team teaches you how to compassionately ask relevant questions. After all, every body and every cancer is different. So this is about empowering spas and therapists to properly vet their products, to have the ability to adapt any treatment on the menu for the person looking for a treatment. The message is ‘personalised wellness’. When we talk to therapists we’re helping them meet someone where they are on their wellness journey, because ultimately we need to acknowledge that in the spa industry we can’t only be wellness for well people.”
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