Kathy and Bernard Borgida

Kathy Borgida and her husband Bernard at last year's Breast Cancer Survivors Dinner.

As a three-time cancer survivor, Kathy Borgida understands how easily cancer treatment can damage a patient’s appearance and energy, but she has also learned that the disease threatens self-esteem — often a key ingredient for a successful recovery.

“For me, losing my hair and my health was like losing a large part of my identity,” said Borgida, a yoga instructor and resident of Rancho Palos Verdes. “I did not want the weight of wearing my illness day in and day out.”

Although Borgida was pleased with the medical care she received during her treatment, she needed more emotional support, especially in social situations.

So Borgida began talking with leaders at Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center about creating a place where patients could access resources and support, including hats and scarves and cosmetics. Through these discussions, the vision for the Image of Hope Center was created, and a team of Kaiser staff worked with Borgida to plan for the center’s programming in Harbor City.

Borgida, who worked at the medical center from 1972 to 1981 as a licensed vocational nurse, left to marry her husband and raise two children, both of whom were born at Kaiser. She practiced yoga therapy, became an instructor and returned to the medical center to lead yoga groups.

She was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and most recently in 2012, for which she underwent stem cell transplant and chemotherapy and is now in remission.

“With chemo, it’s not like there’s a sign on you that says ‘I’m still under the effects of chemotherapy,’” Borgida said. “Sometimes in public while on chemo you feel odd.”

Borgida said the inspiration for the center came from both her own personal experience as well as remembering friends and family who have gone through similar experiences.

“This is a much more personal space encouraging conversation and connection,” Borgida said. “Just having something extra is helpful for a person healing. It’s very important for people to get outside. When you look more normal, which helps you feel more normal, you are more apt to do things like that. It’s not about vanity. It’s about feeling normal.”

The new center, which is part of larger remodeling project at Kaiser that began about a year ago, used to be a volunteer lounge. It is now an intimate space with a selection of hats and scarves, a vanity and a designated changing area.

Kaiser previously only offered a classroom setting for groups to meet, which Borgida said did not foster connections between patients. The new space can be used for private meetings or for a group of six patients to sit around the oval table and listen to a presenter.

The center will offer reading and resource materials, cabinets for storage and a big window looking over a quiet area of grass and trees.

“The Image of Hope Center is a great example of how important it is that we listen to our patients,” Lesley Wille, executive director of the South Bay Medical Center, said in a press release. “It is not enough to provide high-quality medical care. We have to treat the whole person, and that includes providing resources that will help patients retain their sense of self.”

The American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” classes will be taught by trained volunteers at the new Center.

Services are available to any South Bay resident experiencing changes to their appearance due to an illness, whether they are a Kaiser Permanente member or not. Kaiser celebrated the private grand opening of the Image of Hope Center on Wednesday.

“My goal is for the Image of Hope Center to help patients move forward from their illness with their identity intact,” Borgida said.

To schedule an appointment at the new Center, phone 310-517-3284.

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