When cancer patients step into the chemotherapy area at the UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, they may be reminded of a cozy library at a four-star hotel.
The waiting area is lined with floor-to-ceiling, cherry bookshelves loaded with 1,800 books. Carpeted and painted in soothing greys and creams, the room has two couches and is dotted with rose-colored, upholstered chairs.
In the infusion area, they’ll find an open design with a nurse’s station in the center surrounded by a mix of bays offering patients a choice of private, semi-private and open infusion spaces for chemotherapy, depending on their mood.
These design touches are due to input from Maryann dePreaux Walmsley, a cancer patient herself, who wanted to make the chemotherapy—and other infusion treatment—experience a little more pleasant for patients and their caregivers.
She was a patient consultant on the design of the treatment area, which opened June 12 in the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer in the UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, the 300,000-square-foot new home of ambulatory services, including UConn Health’s leading centers for cancer, spine/neurosurgery, and healthy aging.
Unfortunately, dePreaux Walmsley never got to see the new library and suite she helped design. She died in April 2014 at age 52 after fighting cancer for four years.
To commemorate her vision and advocacy, her husband, Tom Walmsley, recently gave a large monetary donation to name The Maryann dePreaux Walmsley Cancer Center Library in her memory.
“She thought it would be nice if patients had a library here so they can grab a book or an iPad and be entertained for a few hours. That might not be anything to cure their cancer, but anything to make an unpleasant experience a little more tolerable is worth it,” Tom Walmsley ’82 said.
The gift supports the construction of the library and is part of Bioscience Connecticut, which includes the construction of the Outpatient Pavilion, a new hospital tower, and the renovation of John Dempsey Hospital.
dePreaux Walmsley was a warm, smart, dynamic businesswoman who not only fought her cancer valiantly, but was an advocate for other cancer patients.
“Even at the end of her life she was thinking about what she could do make patients’ experience better,” said her doctor, Molly Brewer, professor and chairman of the UConn Health obstetrics and gynecology department.
dePreaux Walmsley also organized a team for the annual Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer and volunteered as a committee member of the UConn Cancer Research Golf Tournament.
Petite, pretty, and thoughtful, dePreaux Walmsley was an avid knitter and golfer who loved to travel and would talk about her exotic trips to Tahiti, Bora Bora, and China. She loved to entertain and always put her family first, said Tom Walmsley, who is second vice president of Bond & Financial Products at Travelers Insurance.
Tom and Maryann’s friends and coworkers conducted book drives at Cigna and Travelers, where they collected 2,500 books and funds for several iPads. Tom Walmsley stocked the shelves with most of the books, saving some to replenish the shelves in the future.
In addition to the library, the design also includes dePreaux Walmsley’s suggestion to make the chemo area have more of an open concept space. “One of the things she wanted was she felt it was important to have an area where patients could converse if they wanted,” said Nurse Manager Susan Chelllis. “There are patients who really benefit from talking to each other, so having an open area for them to talk was important. But on days they didn’t feel well or wanted privacy, they can go to the private areas.”
Tom Trutter, associate vice president of campus planning, design, and construction, said her suggestion led to several changes in the design and ultimately improved the atmosphere in the center and made it more comfortable.
“Maryann’s gift will make possible a creative and positive healing environment for cancer patients within the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health,” said Josh Newton, president and CEO of the UConn Foundation.
Maryann’s daughter, Nicole Nehmer, said her mother was always an advocate, despite being so ill.
“She took after my grandmother,” Nehmer said. “She always liked to get involved and make sure people had a voice.”
Nehmer said dePreaux Walmsley was a terrific role model and managed to balance raising a daughter, being a wife, taking classes, and working full-time as an investment managing director at Cigna. dePreaux Walmsley earned her executive MBA from UConn in 1989.
“They say you can’t have it all, but she did,” Nehmer said. “She was truly an amazing role model to me and my friends. “She not only balanced them all, but she excelled at all of them.”
Naming the library after her is a fitting tribute, Nehmer said. “It’s a testament to her legacy, leaving her stamp as she tried to overcome her disease,” she said.