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Creating a Safe Haven in Your Home

by Eileen Coan, MA, MLS

Wellness image

If you or someone you love has cancer, it can feel like you are surrounded by chaos. Your schedule, lifestyle, and plans for the future might be turned upside down. After hearing the hard news, you might find yourself quickly facing surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, and making the rounds from office to office in a maze of medical facilities. Amidst all this, you should have one place that feels safe – home. You can create a healing room, or even a corner of a room, in your house where you can relax, be quiet, regroup, and refresh.

A safe space, or sacred space if you prefer, usually is sparse but warm, comforting, and familiar. If the most comfortable chair in the house is in a noisy public area, you may want to “borrow” it for your nest. A soft lamp or candle may enhance the healing mood better than an overhead light. Soft music can also be nice. You can find a wide selection of soothing sounds, including waves, waterfalls, and singing bowls, on CDs or through online music sites.

Some people add meaningful artwork to their haven, or personal photographs of loved ones, or even images of places with special meaning. Try to choose items that are made from natural materials, as a way of bringing nature inside. On a nearby shelf, place a few books that have given you special insight or wisdom. If there is a window, you may want to drape it in fabric that transforms sunlight into a luminous glow, or hang a stained glass. Pillows and soft blankets add to the warmth, and a quilt can be hung on the wall to add even more softness. A side table can be draped in fabric, creating a place for a personal shrine or altar.

If the most comfortable chair in the house is in a noisy public area, you may want to “borrow” it for your nest.

Author of Article photo

Eileen Coan

You may or may not want to add fragrance to your haven. Those who have had chemotherapy may find that perfumes and scented candles can take on an unpleasant odor during treatment. Some incense and essential oils can add a minimal scent that is enough to make the space feel fresh without distracting.

How you treat your personal corner can be as important as how it looks. Most agree it needs to be phone-free, television-free, and void of interruption. You can train yourself to leave interruptions outside and ask your family to honor your need to be alone. If you are rushing between two events, or preoccupied with the next task, you probably won’t relax. The time you set aside can become a kind of discipline or practice that you schedule for the same time every day, or it can be as needed. The only rules are the ones you make, and because you make them, you can break them! Your need for comfort is a constant throughout your life, but how and where you find it evolves.

What you do in your own special place should bring about relaxation. Some people pray, others practice silent meditation or use their time to write in a journal. You may want to keep art supplies on hand if you feel inspired to create visual images of your thoughts and feelings. This space may afford you the opportunity to cry or be angry. Give yourself permission to let out whatever feelings bubble up to the surface. Letting emotions out can be cathartic and part of the healing process.

During times of illness, well-meaning friends and family come bearing gifts that are from the heart, but often are just put in the already out-of-control piles of clutter. Remember at these times that the love of the gift-giver does not reside in the object, but in their heart. You can even gently tell friends that what you need and want is their companionship on this journey, not “things.”

Many good books and websites are available that can teach you how to create calm in your home. On the cancer journey, you may not have the energy to take on a project like transforming your home into a healing space. But you can always direct and supervise the creation of your space from the comfort of your couch.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Eileen Coan is the medical librarian at The Gathering Place, a nonprofit support center that provides free programs and services to individuals and families touched by cancer. Eileen also teaches guided imagery to aid in relaxation and stress management. She can be contacted at (216) 595-9546 or

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2011.