Healing Garden Provides Beauty, Respite for Cancer Patients

New Features Add to the Environment

During the many hours Liz Loomis sat with her husband Rich while he received cancer treatment at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody, they both wished that instead of a patch of grass outside the window, they could enjoy gazing at a garden. “I’ve always been a big gardener, and Rich was a big fan of my gardens,” Liz said. “When we knew the end was coming, I told him people would want to make some type of contribution in his memory, and he agreed a garden would provide comfort for patients undergoing treatment and their families.”

After Rich died in 2013, Liz proposed using the contributions made in his memory to help build a Healing Garden. Liz worked with hospital leadership to make the garden a reality, made possible in large part by the J.B. Thomas Lahey Foundation. Today, the Peabody Healing Garden, located outside the Sophia Gordon Cancer Center’s infusion room, provides a much-needed respite for patients, families and staff. “It’s so much more than I envisioned,” Liz said recently, four years after the garden was built.

The garden includes a paved sitting area with tables, benches, flowering trees and potted plants outside the Infusion Center waiting room. Outside the Infusion Center is a more private pebbled area, where a duck sometimes waddles around the bushes. A path of plants separates the two parts of the garden. “The nurses say patients always comment on what a lovely view it is, and how nice is it to be able to look outside,” Liz said. She has made a three-year pledge to the garden’s stewardship fund, and continues to be involved in decisions regarding its upkeep. “It’s very important to me,” she said.

New features added this year

Other grateful families have also donated to the garden in memory of their loved ones. Maureen Feenan’s children sponsored the addition of a water feature and bench to the garden this year. The pieces honor not only their mother, who received cancer treatment at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody, but also their father, Jim. The family gathered shortly before Mother’s Day this year to rededicate the Healing Garden, and unveil the new bench and water feature.

“Both my parents were treated for cancer here,” said Jay Feenan. “I went to almost every single treatment my mother had, and we’d look out the window and just see grass. When we heard another family had proposed a garden, our family wanted to contribute.” In addition to offering a lovely view, the garden provides an outdoor space for families to talk while their loved one is receiving treatment, Jay said.

His family wanted to honor not only his parents, but the people who cared for them, Jay said. “The care my parents received was tremendous,” he said. “The doctors, nurses and staff made us feel like part of the family.”

Lifting patients’ spirits

Raymond Nance’s wife, Debby was a gardener and landscape designer who enjoyed viewing the garden during her cancer treatments. “It meant a lot to her,” Raymond said. “She wanted to see it kept up.”

After Debby died earlier this year, her friends asked Raymond what they could contribute to in her memory. “The Healing Garden seemed like a meaningful way to memorialize her,” he said. “I hope other patients will find meaning in it the way my wife did. The name ‘Healing Garden’ is very significant. It certainly lifted her spirits.”

The staff at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody, sees the benefits of the garden every day. “This cancer center is a busy and sometimes challenging place,” said Radiation Oncologist Howard Hsu, MD. “Try to imagine the many ways our patients’ lives and relationships are changing through some of the most challenging months they ever may experience. Then you can begin to understand how important this healing garden is for our patients and their families. It offers them a place for solitude, a place to connect with nature, a place for comfort and another way to feel part of our community that is supporting them.”