Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

The healing garden down the street: Guest blog post by Joan Vorderbruggen and Lisa Overby-Blosser

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
Joan Vorderbruggen's garden patio. All photos by  Joan Vorderbruggen

Joan Vorderbruggen’s garden patio. All photos by Joan Vorderbruggen

I first met Joan Vorderbruggen at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) meeting in 2013 in Providence, RI. She presented an expanded version of this lovely post, and I was very moved. Sometimes we researchers and designers get so bogged down in trying to analyze and quantify everything that we forget the more human and – dare I say it? – even the spiritual dimension. Joan’s and Lisa’s words, along with images from Joan’s garden, get to the heart of it. Many thanks to both of them for sharing here.

The healing garden down the street
By Joan Vorderbruggen and Lisa Overby-Blosser

The spring of 2012 held little hope for my neighbor, Lisa, wife and mother of four teenagers.  Lisa had just been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and was given a year or less to live. Asking me if she could spend time in my backyard garden, she felt time in a peaceful setting would help her deal with the upcoming chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other stresses.

Over that summer, Lisa spent a great deal of time walking the 5-house distance to my yard, sometimes barely able to put one foot in front of the other.  Still, she persevered, settling in to journal, sketch, and just be in the moment.  While I encouraged her to come and go as she pleased, I was happy that at times, she would join me on my deck and, without any prompting, speak of how the garden and natural world supported her during that time. I asked if I could share her words with others.

Lisa’s words (italicized) fit neatly within the framework of Stephen Kellert’s Biophillic Design Elements (below). According to Kellert, these elements stem from an intuitive human-nature connection, where people feel that spending time in nature can help them heal mentally, physically and spiritually. The Biophilia hypothesis assertion is that because humans evolved with nature, they feel comforted by nature (Kellert and Wilson, The Biophilia Hypothesis, 1993).

PROSPECT
The idea of prospect is primarily about being able to control your view, to scan the horizon and understand where you are in relationship to your surroundings.
In the garden you have control – of where you sit, where you look, what you choose to focus on – whether it’s a wide view or something really small…  There are so many choices available to you.  The fact that you can make a choice of something can be healing.

Prospect. Photo by Joan Vorderbruggen

Prospect and Refuge

 

REFUGE
Refuge allows us to feel safe, sheltered and protected.  In my garden, Lisa chose to sit under a grapevine trellis.  She speaks more in metaphor of her feelings of refuge.
The garden is always welcoming; no plants fall over or trees drop their leaves in disgust or empathy when I took my hat off exposing my baldness….  The garden accepts where your body and emotions are at that moment in time.

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Landscapes for people with cancer – A (former) patient’s point of view. Guest post by Kevan Busa

Friday, July 11th, 2014
Busa at lake

Kevan at the lake.

Kevan Busa first contacted me in August of 2012. He was in his last year as an undergraduate in landscape architect at SUNY-ESF, and had been excited about the upcoming semester abroad program in Barcelona, Spain…until he was diagnosed with Leukemia. When he emailed me, he was in his fourth out of five rounds of chemotherapy, and was scheduled to be in Buffalo for three months to get a bone marrow transplant. He wrote, “I talked to my school and doctors and i think that i am going to be doing an independent study of healing spaces while i am there.” Seriously? You plan on doing research while you recover from chemo and a bone marrow transplant? Wow. And he did! His research was subsequently published in the June, 2013 issue of Landscape Architecture magazine. I asked him to write a guest post for the TLN Blog, and he graciously agreed. The post is below.

Looking back at by far the hardest year of my life, I have realized the potential that I have to share my information with the professional world and especially people interested in healing spaces. There is more information being added every day that will help so many people in the future and am honored to be adding my research and experience to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network.

I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and went through a Bone Marrow Transplant within the past year. There was a lot to take in when I got sick and to think about, especially life. Being a landscape architecture student at the State University of New York: College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the topic of healing spaces from within a hospital setting was always on my mind. I went through chemotherapy rounds as the world around me was enjoying summer and the outdoors. All I wanted to do was to be outside when I wasn’t getting treatment.

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Life and renewal in the garden – a cancer survivor’s story

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Raised vegetable bed. Photo by Donna Helmes

Raised vegetable bed. Photo by Donna Helmes

Donna Helmes signed up for the Therapeutic Landscapes Network newsletter last week, and in the optional “tell us a little about yourself” box, she said that she was a cancer survivor. I asked whether she would share her story for the TLN Blog, and here it is.

In 2008, during a routine mammogram, an eagle-eyed radiologist discovered my invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. A double mastectomy and 4 rounds of chemotherapy followed.  I thought my life was over before it ever really began.  I was filled with regret over all my past missed opportunities and I grieved for things I believed that I would never have, such as a child of my own.  I struggled to find the strength to face my disease and endure treatment.

Donna Helmes during treatment

Donna Helmes during treatment

During my recuperation from surgery, my mother bought me a pack of seeds and a pink gardening kit.  I was unimpressed.  I lived in an apartment and I had cancer.  I wasn’t in the mood to take on a new hobby, especially one that might involve bugs! My mom would not be deterred. She planted the seeds in a tray and placed it in my laundry room.  She left me strict instructions about watering, and when and how to repot the seedlings when the plants were large enough.

Donna Helmes flowers. Photo by Donna Helmes

Annuals on the deck. Photo by Donna Helmes

So as not to disappoint her, I half-heartedly followed her instructions. I watered the tray of seeds and placed them in a sunny location.  I checked on them every day. After a few weeks, a funny thing started to happen.  I found myself looking forward to watching the progression of my little flower seedlings.  I was happy and more than a little excited when the plants were big enough to be transplanted.  After a few more weeks, as I neared the end of my chemo treatments, the flowers began to bloom.  I realized that the flowers symbolized so much for me about life and renewal and health.  I was transfixed by the lovely profusions of colors and textures and smells.  I rejoiced in the blossoms as much as I rejoiced at the end of chemotherapy.

From then on, the strength and beauty found in something so delicate inspired me.  I discovered that I felt calmer and could forget about cancer when I tended to my flowers. Each day brought a new discovery about the plants. I discovered that I loved digging in the dirt and caring for my plants (bugs be damned!).  I enjoyed learning about the rhythms of life and how a little sun, some water and lots of love can produce something wondrous.  It felt good to feel the warmth of the sun on my bald head and my arms felt more flexible after a few rounds of weeding.

Bella. Photo by Donna Helmes.

Bella, laughing

Today, I have my own house with a little backyard. I grow flowers, organic vegetables and all sorts of plants.  This year I even I added strawberries.  My beautiful baby girl, whom I adopted last fall, enjoys being next to me outside while I weed, water and tend to my garden.   We take pleasure in nature and our souls benefit from all the beauty around us.  And my mom? She couldn’t be happier for her daughter, the gardener.

Thank you so much, Donna, for your story and pictures!

Do you have a story to tell? Please share it with us, either here as a comment or by contacting us.

 

It’s in the Dirt! Bacteria in soil may make us happier, smarter

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Yum, dirt! Photo by Guy Ambrosino.A big thank you to Horticulture Magazine for featuring this post on their website. We are honored to be chosen as one of their Best Gardening Blogs 2011!

AND to the National Wildlife Federation for featuring this article as a guest post on their blog!

Many people, including me, talk about the restorative benefits of gardening (see last Tuesday’s post, for example) and the reasons why it makes us feel good. Just being in nature is already therapeutic, but actively connecting with nature through gardening is value-added. And why is that? All sorts of reasons have been posited: It’s a meditative practice; it’s gentle exercise; it’s fun; it allows us to be nurturing and to connect with life on a fundamental level.

And some recent research has added another missing piece to the puzzle: It’s in the dirt. Or to be a little more specific, a strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of seratonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. And on top of that, this little bacterium has been found to improve cognitive function and possibly even treat cancer and other diseases. Which means that contact with soil, through gardening or other means (see Elio, above), is beneficial. How did this discovery come about?

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“My Garden Saved My Life.”

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Lotus flower

Image courtesy of Henry Domke, www.henrydomke.com

This is a really sweet sweet idea. Readers were asked to submit a paragraph about how “my garden saved my life,” with an accompanying image. Here are two excerpts:

In Tune with Nature
For me, it is simply the age-old connection to the earth itself. To dig in the ground, to watch new life spring forth, to reap the rewards of beautiful plants, flowers, maybe some edible fruits, vegetables, or herbs … that is all so enriching. And time spent in my garden is time spent away from every stressful thing in my life. I don’t think of it as me being in control of anything … I think of it as me being a PART of it all. Part of the earth, part of the plants, part of the seasons. Just in tune with nature, through and through.

Battling Breast Cancer
During my recent treatment for breast cancer, being in my garden helped me immensely. Although I couldn’t do much, just being outside and taking in the flowers, vegetables and all of the critters that go with a garden made me feel better. It also helped me not to feel sorry for myself and like I was accomplishing something, even if I just planted a couple of seeds that day.

Link to iVillage here to see all 15 slides. I’m sorry about all the annoying ads. Still, if you can work around those, it’s quite a nice post.

There’s also an essay titled “The Garden Saved My Life” by Barbara Blossom Ashmun, published in the anthology The Ultimate Gardener. Here’s the author’s blog post about it.

And what about you, dear reader? If you were asked the same question, what would your answer be? We’d love to hear from you, and others probably would, too! Leave a comment and let’s see what we have to say.