Alberta Cancer Foundation

Greener Dreams

Susan Carr always took solace in the outdoors. Never more so than after her diagnosis with cancer.

The Cross Cancer Institute’s Volunteer Association legacy project, the Healing Garden

About eight years ago, Carr began experiencing severe abdominal pain. After a year of trying to find answers, she met a gastroenterologist who told her it wasn’t all in her head and ordered a CT scan. Unfortunately, the scan revealed pancreatic cancer. (The pancreas is an organ that releases enzymes into the intestines so they can absorb food and fat.) Early on, there are no symptoms and by the time pain strikes, the disease is often advanced.

But today, she counts herself as lucky. “I had an extraordinary surgeon, Dr. Norman Kneteman, who chose to operate on me when hope was slim,” she says. Doctors found that, despite her pain, Carr’s cancer had not spread to other tissues and organs.

And then Carr recalls her first appointment with her oncologist, Dr. Charles Butts. “He pulled up a chair, bent over to look me squarely in the eyes, and asked me to tell him about myself. When I began to talk about my health, he said, ‘No, tell me about you. Who are you?’ From that moment on, I felt safely enveloped at the Cross Cancer Institute.”

She would end up spending countless hours at the Cross for treatment. Later, when her health was better, she dedicated countless more hours as a volunteer. “Here I am today, alive and well,” she says, “and privileged to chair the 50th Anniversary Committee of the volunteer association.” The committee was charged with leaving a legacy to honour the volunteers who, over the past 50 years, have raised $4 million in support of patient care and comfort.

From Carr’s perspective as a patient and as a volunteer, there was one thing missing that might boost the care patients received and the solace their families needed: a garden. “There was no place at the Cross for patients and their families to sit outside, catch a breath of fresh air,” she says, “and for a short period of time, perhaps, be distracted from the reality of a cancer diagnosis.”

Carr says that people who have been on the brink of death understand that nature can have a profound buoying effect on the spirit. And she wasn’t alone. A garden of one kind or another at the Cross has long been a goal. At times, it has come close to fruition, but has never panned out. The volunteer association’s 50th anniversary committee also recognized the connection between nature and health, and set about to make it happen. The legacy project, the Healing Garden, was born. “It seemed appropriate,” Carr says, “to serve as a sanctuary for patients and their families – to renew the spirit and comfort the soul.”

Alberta Cancer Foundation funds will help build and maintain the Healing Garden. Jane Weller of the foundation describes the project as “a natural fit” with her organization’s goals. “We consider the volunteers our valued partners as we both work hand-in-hand to enhance care and ease the journey for patients and
their families at the Cross Cancer Institute,” she says.

Weller says that though the Healing Garden is the foundation’s first official partnership with the volunteer association, volunteers are often a patient’s first brush with cancer care in Alberta, and they help set the tone. “When we talk to donors about their motivation, many of them will speak about volunteers and medical staff in the same breath,” she says. Weller adds that the Healing Garden has already captured the interest of donors as a meaningful way to become involved.

In November, Carr was on hand for the sod-turning ceremony. Once the Healing Garden is complete, patients and families can head to the west side of the cancer centre to find it. A $600,000 wheelchair-accessible space, it was created through a partnership that includes the Cross Cancer Institute Volunteer Association, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Health Services and Delnor Construction Ltd. It will include two plaza areas, a winding walkway and a small private seating zone surrounded by vegetation and shrubs and it will offer some protection from wind and rain, while still connecting patients to the outdoors. The garden opens in June 2013.

As Susan Carr would tell you, the cancer-busting power of the latest surgical treatments, along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, are pretty awe-inspiring. But you should never underestimate the healing power of the sun falling through the leaves and the breeze gently caressing your skin.

The Green Team

The team at work behind the Cross Cancer Institute’s Volunteer Association legacy project, the Healing Garden, encompasses deep commitment and talent. They are: Susan Carr, Eugene Malo, John Jacob, Marg Smith, Minota Dundas, Debbie-Hall Lavoie, Shirley Gaudet, Lynda Harker, Deborah McTaggart-Baird, and Paula Germann.

In conjunction with the Cross Cancer Institute’s Volunteer Association, the space is also made possible by support from Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Health Services and Delnor Construction Ltd. To find out how you can help, call the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Jane Weller at 780-432-8358.