Local News

Duke Uses Virtual Reality To Bring Art To Cancer Patients

Posted Updated
Switch to classic wral.com

DURHAM, N.C. — Most people visit an art museum to relax, unwind and take in the beauty. That is the idea behind a study at Duke that brings art to cancer patients.

Donna Honeycutt, a breast cancer patient at Duke, still has vivid memories of her first round of chemotherapy.

"I could taste the chemo and smell it," she said.

Honeycutt then became involved in a study using virtual reality. Experts believe if patients can focus on something enjoyable, they will tolerate the chemotherapy better. With one particular program, the VR headsets whisk patients away on a guided tour of famous works of art.

The first time Honeycutt slipped on the headset, she said she no longer "tasted" the chemo.

"I was so wrapped up in the art. I lost track of what was going on around me, which was nice," Honeycutt said.

Susan Schneider has done several studies on virtual reality and chemotherapy. She has found that time seems to speed up in a virtual reality world.

"On average when chemotherapy lasts 60 to 70 minutes, women thought their chemotherapy lasted about a half hour or so. It actually made the time pass faster," she said.

Patients also tend to experience less nausea, stress and fatigue. Honeycutt has always enjoyed art. She just never thought it would help her get through chemotherapy.

"[It's] just sort of picks me up," she said.

Right now, most hospitals provide TVs and VCRs for patients during chemotherapy, but patients are still aware of what's going on around them. Honeycutt said that during her last chemotherapy session, someone beside her was getting sick. She said she did not even know it.