Which one of us hasn’t stood in the cosmetics department of a drug store or department store, with the latest promise in hand? Erases age spots. Removes redness. Makes wrinkles a memory. Sure, you may have found products you like, but are they working?
What if you had some advice from someone who had real solutions that lived up to their promises, not the snake-oil sales pitch, but real, honest, encouraging advice.
Enter Dr. Cheryl Cook.
With a passion for dermatology and personalized patient care, Dr. Cook, a board certified physician, opened Velum Skin and Laser Center almost a year ago. The new West End clinic is the ideal marriage of modern technology and good, old-fashioned patient care.
Dr. Cook and her staff provide a variety of medical cosmetic treatments that heal and improve skin imperfections, including the latest technology in laser treatments and broadband light therapy, injectable treatments such as Botox and soft tissue fillers, chemical peels, and laser hair removal. Velum also sells a limited number of exclusive brands of skin care products that have proven to do what they promise.
It’s not just cosmetic medical procedures done here. Dr. Cook sees patients for routine skin exams and ailments of the skin such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and skin cancer. She provides thorough full-body exams, in comfortable, discrete exam rooms that are so spacious and well-appointed that they don’t feel like an exam room at all. By design, Velum is quiet, soft-lit, and relaxing, but don’t confuse Dr. Cook’s practice with a spa.
“We’re primarily a medical facility,” she says.
Dr. Cook has been practicing medicine for 30 years, first as a nurse then as an internist and most recently as a dermatologist. She worked for St. Vincent Healthcare for 15 years before deciding to open her own private practice.
Dr. Cook opened Velum with a hope to change the way medicine is practiced. As she sees it, there isn’t enough attention paid to the doctor-patient relationship. She wanted to create a space that facilitated relationships, and she wanted to develop procedures that allowed her to spend more time with her patients.
“The way things are moving in health care is away from the doctor-patient relationship, and that’s what’s wrong with healthcare right now,” Dr. Cook says.
Velum is different in other ways too. There’s no waiting room, because there’s no waiting, and there’s no rush to get through an appointment. These days, it’s not unusual for dermatologists to see between 30 and 50 patients a day, Dr. Cook says. At Velum, she schedules between 10 and 15 patients a day, giving new patients an entire hour for an exam. Established patients get at least a half hour of her time.
She wants time to listen, to really understand her patients’ concerns, and develop effective, practical solutions for them. It takes time, Dr. Cook says, but the trust that’s developed opens doors that allow her to have broader conversations about health and wellness.
“When I get my hands on somebody, I try to get them to see the big picture, and let them know they only have one life to live,” Dr. Cook says.
Just one year into her venture, Dr. Cook has made a difference in many of her patients. A few months ago, a woman came in for a cosmetic procedure and Dr. Cook saw a suspicious spot, which she identified as skin cancer. She was able to remove the cancer that day. Another man came in concerned about an unusual spot on his hand. Dr. Cook took care of his hand and checked his back, where she found additional cancerous spots.
Teri Zook has been seeing Dr. Cook for many years, first as an internist and then as a dermatologist, and she says Dr. Cook’s dedication to her patients is without comparison.
“She is somebody you can really talk to, and she listens and she really cares,” Zook says.
Dr. Cook is known for thinking outside the box, but to do that she has to dig in and really listen to her patients. Cori M. Cook (no relation to Dr. Cook) first saw Dr. Cook when she was suffering from a cluster of confounding symptoms. She’d been to several doctors who were quick to misdiagnose her illness, and she wasn’t finding relief. Dr. Cook took the time to drill down to the root cause of her symptoms, and as it turned out, it wasn’t as serious as other doctors had thought.
“She thinks beyond the pharmacy, and doesn’t just prescribe a pill,” Cook says. “She cares about her patients and takes the time to think things through.”
Dr. Cook has always been dedicated to learning more about the medical field, and Velum has provided her with additional learning opportunities. This past year she has attended several conferences to bring back the very latest information, techniques, and technology to her patients.
At the moment, Velum is one of the only facilities in Billings that has Halo technology (Billings Plastic Surgery is the other). This technology offers a hybrid, fractional laser that is proven to improve the texture of the skin, remove fine lines, and minimize sun damage. A broadband light therapy machine by the same maker as the Halo, has been proven effective for acne, rosacea, and age spots.
Dr. Cook is always thinking of ways she can go beyond helping just her patients. She is in the process of developing a treatment plan for teens with acne. She wants to “trade” her services with broadband light therapy for their community service. Teens who need treatment can volunteer to meet a need they see in their community, and Dr. Cook will treat them for free.
“It’s my idea for fixing two things at once,” she says.
The opportunity to make a difference was what drew Dr. Cook and her husband Chris to Billings. They lived in the Denver area, where Dr. Cook was recognized as one of Colorado’s “Top Docs” in 1997. Healthcare was changing even then, and she wanted to serve a smaller community where she could make a difference.
Shortly after landing in Billings, Dr. Cook started Walk and Talk with the Doc, a program of the YMCA. For more than 10 years she’s made herself available to the public every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to walk and share her expertise as a medical professional. To get the conversation started Dr. Cook offers a health tip at the beginning of the walk.
“It’s a free for all from there,” Dr. Cook says. “People can ask me anything or everything. Mainly we talk about life, and making healthy changes.”
Chris Cook is a familiar face on the walks and at Velum as well. He is as dedicated to the community as his wife. Chris’s passion is to help young people develop healthy habits, and he recently received a Health Hero award sponsored by the Eat Right Montana and Action for Healthy Kids coalitions.
When they’re not working or volunteering, the Cooks enjoy cycling, and last fall, Dr. Cook ran her ninth half-marathon. She’s finding time for the things and the people she enjoys outside of her work. Dr. Cook is no less busy than she was before she opened Velum, but she’s energized because she’s doing the work she loves on her own terms.
“I want to make a difference,” Dr. Cook says. “We’ve got only one life to live here, and I want to help people live the best lives they can.”
-Wear sunblock or sunscreen every day, and when you look at the ingredients on the tube, make sure it includes zinc oxide.
-Minimize sun exposure and your risk of skin cancer by covering up. Try UV protective clothing for maximum coverage.
-Use a topical product containing Retin-A, which also works against acne, aging and skin cancer.
-Take a Vitamin D supplement.
-Check yourself regularly for skin cancer, using the ABCDE method — Asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other), Border irregularity, Color that is not uniform, Diameter greater than 6 mm — (about the size of a pencil eraser), and Evolving size, shape or color. If you notice any changes, see your doctor right away.