Local cancer center researches how virtual reality helps cancer patients

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WNDU) - A study is underway at a Michiana cancer center to determine if virtual reality can calm patients undergoing treatment.

The study began last month at the Marie Yeager Cancer Center at Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph, Michigan.

The study involves analyzing the blood pressure and baseline anxiety level in patients with, and then without the virtual reality, or VR, during treatments.

They hope to collect data to support that VR lowers anxiety in patients.

“It's a moment in time that they're able to focus on something positive or relaxing,” said Dr. Barbara Schmidtman, the manager of radiation oncology and ambulatory infusion.

“Once I saw how patients were reacting to this, it really fueled me from start to finish,” said Brendon Beede, the senior project manager in information security. “I knew that I was onto something here.”

Beede says one patient said she would go to the beach every day before treatments to reduce her anxiety; but on a day when it was too cold to go to the beach, Beede gave her the VR headset and took her to Hawaii.

“She spent an hour traveling all across Hawaii on beaches, parasailing, just all sorts of stuff,” Beede said with a laugh. “She took it off and she was like, 'Wow, that's better than Xanax!'”

Patients can watch a basketball game from the sidelines or a football game from the 50-yard line, but travel content is the most important, since many patients can't go far during their time in treatment.

“You're locked into your location for sometimes 5 weeks or greater,” Schmidtman said. “In chemotherapy, they could be locked into their location for much longer. This really allows patients from a travel perspective to be able to see parts of the world that they haven't had an opportunity to see.”

The researchers hope their study will be published nationwide and impact other cancer centers.