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This Start Up is Harnessing The Healing Power of Virtual Reality

Business

It's an unfortunate reality. Everyone either has been, or knows someone who has been affected by cancer or another serious illness. Most of us can relate to the hardships of watching a loved one suffer from the emotional ups and downs of this difficult journey. However, if entrepreneur Diane Jooris has anything to do with it, there may be a way to lessen the pain. Based on new research into the healing power of virtual reality, her company, Oncomfort, is designed to help alleviate the anxieties of medical procedures and treatments.


According to CNN, "immersive virtual reality systems are starting to be developed for use by patients during painful procedures, such as dental procedures or changing burns dressings. Addiction in the digital age. The idea is that by placing oneself in this highly immersive virtual world, we are distracted from the painful experience."

Jooris is a wife and a mother of three with a master's degree in clinical psychology and a specialization in hypnosis. Jooris is also a forward-thinking health entrepreneur who is looking to technology to help ease the pain of long-term care.

“I've always been extremely impressed by the impacts that the mind can have on the body and what we can do only by turning our thoughts and our minds in a different direction," she says.

“We won't close the door for anyone… we are there for everybody."

Jooris has been working with medical patients as a volunteer, mental health professional and researcher for the past twenty years. In the last four years she has been working as a specialist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It was also four years ago that Jooris' sister was diagnosed with cancer.

Soon Jooris witnessed first-hand the exhaustion and physiological effects of cancer treatment, which when combined make it difficult for patients to get the emotional support they need. It was then that the idea of Oncomfort was first born.

Through her specialties in hypnosis, Jooris knew the effect that the hypnosis techniques can have on patients. Unfortunately, that is quite often too limited for patients such as Jooris' sister who aren't able to get to a doctor's office. After experimenting with hypnosis audio recordings, Jooris realized that there needed to be another component--virtual reality.

“You need to have something that compensates and counterbalances [a real live person]."

With virtual reality, the patient is fully immersed into a situation that is removed from whatever procedure they are going through. The main goal is to put the patient through a state of disassociation through a “different" environment. While listening solely to an audio, 15% of people don't have the skills to come up with a visual on their own, which is why the virtual reality itself is so important.

While in Houston, Jooris was introduced to Joowon Kim, a previous founder of virtual reality game company. Together, the two identified the needs of both doctors and patients, and then created a prototype to ship to doctors in different countries. After receiving feedback from the doctors, they adapted the prototype to try on patients, where they received even more feedback. It's this ongoing process that keeps the product thoroughly improving.

“Passion is major, and if you have a vision, and your main goal is genuine… I think you are able to make things happen."

Jooris says that she was with one patient who was smiling while on the operating table, and the patient said, “This is wonderful--I'm swimming with dolphins!" The limits of virtual reality are essentially endless. Without any invasive procedures or medications, these people are able to be both pain and anxiety free. Even though there is a lot of competition in the field, Oncomfort is the only product running in five different languages, offering opportunities for global use.

"Beyond studies of distraction, we are also starting to see other examples of how virtual reality could be used, and even incorporated into cognitive behavioral approaches to chronic pain management," according to CNN. "For example, virtual games have been used as a means of delivering exposure-based behavioral treatments for pain, in which a patient is placed in different virtual situations that they might otherwise avoid."

Starting a company is not easy work, especially one so heavily involved with both scientific and psychological research. Jooris says that you have to be part human and part octopus for such a task. You must have arms everywhere--you need to be able to handle finances, go through legal contracts, find voices, take part of competitions, and so much more because you want to be able to grow your company; and that is exactly what Jooris is doing.

Jooris and Kim are hoping that within six more months, the company and product will be more widely distributed throughout multiple countries and more well known. Oncomfort isn't only limited to oncology patients, either. The goal is to have it available for anyone who needs it, whether it be through other medical procedures or even dealing with regular stress.

And her final advice for everybody? Stay motivated. Choose your battles, and know your priorities--the rest will come afterwards.

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Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.