Fighting Cancer in a New Way
The Mercy Cancer Center is getting their hands dirty in the fight against cancer by taking the battle outside to their groundbreaking new garden. The “Healing Garden,” located outside the Mercy Cancer Center West Lakes facility, provides patients, caregivers and employees with a key to cancer prevention, nutrition and improved health and wellness.
STORY EMMA LOCKWOOD | IMAGES BY NOLAN KRESNAK
“One way to reduce our risk of cancer is to eat a plant based diet rich in fruits and vegetables,” says Mercy dietitian, Barb Wisnieski, one of the project leads. “We began the project with the idea that the garden would provide an opportunity for patients, cancer survivors and our staff to learn more about how food is grown and why a plant based diet is so beneficial. We knew the garden could become a great place for us to practice what we preach.”
“We’re also seeing more and more research about the therapeutic benefits of being active and out in nature, both during and after treatment,” said collaborator and Mercy dietitian, Crystal Tallman.
In the fall of 2013, Wisnieski and Tallman teamed up with a group of former patients and Mercy staff to test the concept by building eight raised beds to grow vegetables and herbs. The project was funded with a grant from the Mercy Auxiliary, with plans and project support provided by Perficut.
“We wanted to see how much interest there would be in the garden,” said Wisnieski. “The response from our patients and staff was much more than we could have hoped for. The garden became a great way for our community to join together to do something that was healthy and fun. We knew almost immediately that we would have to expand.”
Perficut and Mercy Work Together on the Garden
“We reached out to Perficut to see if they would partner with us,” said Wisnieski. “I really can’t say enough great things about Perficut and the amount of support and enthusiasm they’ve had on this project.”
Jeremy Boka, Director of Business Development for Perficut said, “The Healing Garden has been an incredible project for us. At Perficut we’ve always believed that enhancing outdoor areas is one of the best ways to improve happiness and morale with our commercial and residential customers. It’s really exciting to see the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of our work in something as difficult as a cancer journey.”
The expanded garden will include areas where patients can relax and reflect, and where families can go to be together. It will also be handicap accessible so that patients who are limited to a wheelchair can help with the gardening. The crops that are harvested from the garden will continue to be distributed at West Lakes and at Mercy downtown, with cooking tips, nutritional information and recipes.
The centerpiece of the expanded garden will be the Lori Dowie-Resser Memorial Fountain, which was created by Des Moines artist, John Brommel, and funded by Mercy Radiation Oncologist Dr. Philip Colletier.
Ms. Dowie-Resser, for whom the fountain is named, was a patient of Dr. Colletier’s and the Executive Chef at Iowa Culinary Institute for nearly three decades. She was well-known in the Des Moines community and said to be “a shining example that we could all live with more heart, love and generosity of spirit, even in the most difficult of times.”
“She was an avid gardener who loved cooking with crops that she harvested, and she loved being in the outdoors,” said Tallman.
“As our community is fed, educated and brought together in the Healing Garden, we hope to provide a national model for other cancer centers to create their own gardens,” said Dr. Colletier. “We also hope that the garden provides an appropriate tribute and memorial to Lori, as well as all the other patients and families who pass through our halls.”