Dr. Pam Davis has had a passion for technology and academic research since she was young. She earned a doctorate degree in instructional media and technology from Columbia University and became a technology teacher. After teaching for more than 20 years, Dr. Davis’s passion for robotics and technology had to take the back seat when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 47-years-old.
A friend referred her to Gilda’s Club, a community organization that offers support groups, events and resources for people in the cancer community. Dr. Davis decided she would attend a yoga class at Gilda’s Club.
“My first instinct was to walk into the yoga class — I didn’t speak to anyone at first but doing rather than speaking is my way of introducing myself,” Dr. Davis said. “People there were less intimidating than I thought they were.”
As her discomfort subsided, Dr. Davis joined more breast cancer and cancer patient support groups. She noticed many of the friends she was making had young children who were exhibiting behaviors of anxiety and stress. She thought back to her own behaviors walking in to her first yoga class at Gilda’s Club — she had to do instead of talk to introduce herself to receiving help.
“Even if you know you need community, it’s hard to walk in a room and say, ‘Hi, I need you’.”
Kids could benefit from having a hands-on, engaging activity that included other people in their situation, Dr. Davis thought. She brought in robots for kids at Gilda’s Club to play with that eventually garnered the attention of many. Noticing an interest within the community, Dr. Davis organized her first robotics workshops for children and families experiencing cancer.
“A lot of times, the kids will get personal because [we’re discussing] something that is happening to their parents or to themselves. Other times, it’s just a lesson in science and discovery that creates a bonding element.”
The events continued to grow into the company it is today, known as Wellbotics. Today, Wellbotics hosts multiple workshops a year in Dr. Davis’s home state of New York. The curriculum ranges, but each session teaches participants about mechanical functions of the body. For example, a respiration unit would examine how humans breathe, what happens when people aren’t breathing well and how to determine the signs and symptoms of respiratory distress.
“I thought I had a specific age range, elementary school age. But every time I brought in robots, older people wanted to get involved and I just couldn’t turn them away!” Dr. Davis said with a laugh. “So, I don’t put an age range on it anymore.”
Families sometimes participate together as a team. Wellbotics workshops provide people an opportunity to have some fun, blow off steam and to be successful at something, Dr. Davis said. When your biggest problem is cancer, solving a little problem can really make your day.
“In the world of science, people who build robots don’t build by themselves. They work with a team and go through trial and error,” Dr. Davis said.
The workshops also teach coding. Coding requires focus and thinking through each step of the process. Dr. Davis hopes that kids learn to apply the meta-cognitive mindfulness of coding to their own behaviors. Participants can leave the workshop and apply that same thought process to events in their own lives. They can pause and think, what are the steps can I take to stop fighting with a sibling? Or how can I express my emotions in a more effective way?
“I can do the education part with a great deal of fluency,” Dr. Davis said. “The part that applies to mental health, I respect and leave to mental health practitioners and will always invite them to comment or participate.”
Counselors are on-sight and available throughout each workshop.
Looking ahead, Dr. Davis hopes to expand the organization into an even broader context. She plans to train social workers or nurses to participate in her workshops and other facets of cancer patient support.
“I love what I do, and I don’t think I’ll stop, but I don’t think it will stop with me,” Dr. Davis said.
To learn more about Wellbotics, or find out if there are workshops near you, please visit www.wellbotics.org.
NFCR thanks Dr. Pam Davis and all those who have shared their stories of cancer to the Faces and Voices of Cancer project. If you are interested in submitting your story of cancer, please visit www.facesandvoicesofcancer.org and click “submit story”.