The healing garden, a peaceful park hidden behind Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center’s cancer support facility, has expanded its grounds to include a section for children, specifically those who are being treated for or who have a loved one with cancer.
“It can be very difficult for a child with cancer or even the siblings of a sick child to talk to someone about what’s happening,” said Marguerite Koepke, a professor emerita of University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design. “What research has found, however, is that children are more likely to really open up and talk when they’re outdoors or in the presence of nature.”
Piedmont Athens Regional’s Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support has a three-acre therapeutic healing garden that has continued to grow, plant-by-plant, since the center was established in 2000. It is open to people of all ages, as well as those living in the surrounding community.
The healing garden’s most recent addition, completed in February, is specifically for children, to help them through a cancer diagnosis in their family.
“We felt there was a really strong need to have a section in the garden for children to feel comfortable,” said Koepke, who has a passion for the connection between health and nature, and has been the lead designer for the center’s healing garden since its beginning. The new section includes a playground, space for activities and plenty of plants.
The belief that plants and nature are beneficial to people in a health care setting has existed for thousands of years, which is why photos of the beach and fish tanks are often found in doctors’ offices. Though all gardens can provide a sense of well-being, a healing garden is designed using certain wellness factors, which are proven to reduce stress, improve recovery rates and lead to a higher patient satisfaction.
Koepke’s background in landscape architecture allowed her to create the Loran Smith Center’s healing garden using these factors, but as a Stage III breast cancer survivor, her connection stretches further than the garden.
“The Loran Smith Center was there for me through my own fight against cancer,” she said. “I just want to help in any way that I can because I know how the people feel and what they’re going through.”
For more information about cancer services or the free programs offered through Piedmont Athens Regional’s Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support, visit athenshealth.org/loransmithcenter.