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As a wife, mother, and attorney, Tiffanie De Liberty of Santa Rosa had a full life. But she was forced to carve out time for intensive treatment when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

The Integrative Health and Healing Services program in Santa Rosa is a cherished oasis for De Liberty during recovery, and the program is poised to significantly expand later this month when it moves from donated space at the Integrative Medical Clinic on Concourse Boulevard to the second floor of the former Warrick Hospital on Summerfield Road.

The cancer support program, sponsored by Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, offers women massage, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, jin shin jyutsu (an acupressure treatment), and an expressive arts program known as Crossroads.

IHHS is open to any woman regardless of her ability to pay. The program accepts donations from those who can afford it, and is free for those who meet its low-income criteria. Volunteer practitioners come on Saturdays to give individual treatments, and on a typical day 25 to 30 women participate in sessions. The new facility will allow IHHS to gradually add to its services; program coordinator Pam Koppel said the program will eventually be open several days a week.

De Liberty, 40, is participating in a new support group at IHHS that began in September for young women with any form of cancer. Since it's important to keep the group small, Koppel likes to maintain a maximum of 10 slots. Later this month IHHS is adding a second young-women's group, and a new support group for women with advanced cancers.

"It's a different kind of devastation for women in their 30s and early 40s," De Liberty said.

Most of the women in her support group are mothers of young children, and many are just hitting their stride in careers. De Liberty, an alcoholic-beverage attorney, had recently started a new job when she was diagnosed.

<CW-12>"Suddenly how do you take care of the kids, exercise, work and feel sick at the same time? It's not that older women don't face that, but you're at a point in your career when you've just got it under your belt and people trust you and you're confident. Cancer saps every confidence. It saps mental confidence and is very deteriorating on your brain. You're suddenly weak and can't do things," she said.</CW>

"It's so great to go to a group where a lot of the issues are very common among mothers," De Liberty said. "How do we take a pause in the middle of life? I've stopped thinking of it as a pause. My cancer did come back and I had surgery and chemotherapy.

"Several of the moms stay at home. We all express frustration about needing help and having to ask for it," she said.

Before joining the young-women's group, De Liberty went to IHHS for massage, acupuncture and jin shin jyutsu treatments.

"I believe in alternative medicine. It's nice to have someone touch you and it wasn't in a clinical way," she said.

After receiving therapy sessions, many women stay for lunch provided by the Ceres Project, and it becomes an informal time for support and friendship.

"It's like a support group for people who don't want to join a group. You get information from other women and realize you're not alone," De Liberty said. "The longer you're on this journey, the more you might be able to help other people. The network just happens."

Cheryl Cherney of Petaluma has been a volunteer jin shin jyutsu practitioner at IHHS for a couple of years, and in January was herself diagnosed with breast cancer. She's taken a break from offering treatments, but intends to go back.

"I've really loved working there. The women were so incredible. It's a magical place. A lot of the women are very, very ill, dealing with cancer for five or 10 years. The thing that strikes me is they are just so brave. They're women who love life and want quality of life. It's been very inspiring, and I will go back to work there," Cherney said.

<CW-24>Once IHHS moves, it will begin offering additional counseling sessions with naturopathic doctor Moses Goldberg, who educates women about nutrition, vitamins, herbs and supplements they might take in conjunction with medicine prescribed by oncologists. Also slated for expansion is Crossroads, an eight-week series of sessions in which women who have recently finished treatment can create art using different media as a way of exploring emotions around having cancer.</CW>

"You're held by the system when you have cancer and when it's done, you're thrown out. There's a feeling of abandonment and you feel all the emotions you didn't have time to feel. The safety net is gone and you're not the same person," said Koppel, a licensed clinical social worker.

The new IHHS will transform the former Warrick Hospital second floor into a space that feels like being in a living room rather than a sterile medical facility, she said. It will be a healing environment with walls painted soft, warm colors, fountains, plants and artwork by local artists on display.

The program is funded by Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation and Barb's Race, an annual local marathon started by two-time cancer survivor Barb Recchia of Healdsburg. This year, Recchia gave IHHS a check for $71,000, and since IHHS began in 2003, Barb's Race has donated more than $300,000 to support its services. It also receives grant money and is a recipient of the Catwalk for a Cure annual fundraiser.

"So many women say Saturday is the highlight of their week. They come to get nurtured. As women, we're not very good at receiving or nurturing ourselves," Koppel said. "I believe individual treatments are helpful, but don't underestimate the value of being nurtured in a group setting."

Janet Parmer is a Bay Area feature writer. She can be reached at jhparmer@comcast.net.