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Vegetable Garden Provides Hope For Cancer Patients

Undergoing cancer treatment is mentally and physically exhausting, and doctors are always searching for ways to make life easier for their patients. At Ohio State University, some patients are turning to gardening. OSU's Garden of Hope improves the well- being of people living with cancer. “Have you been to the garden before? One time, this is my second time. Do you know what you’re doing? Kind of I think," says Hana Mattan. 38-year-old Hana Mattan picked lettuce and pulled onions from a small garden on the edge of the OSU campus. A steady rain fell. Mattan was diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago. It’s now spread to her liver. Later this summer she expects to harvest Brussels sprouts and tomatoes. “You know I enjoy picking it, so that’s one thing. I mean healthy food is good, that gives me encouragement and it’s free," says Mattan. Mattan is among 200 patients and family members who are part of the James Cancer Hospital’s Garden of Hope program. Patients and their families use the garden near Kenny and Lane. Other patients take seeds and plants home for their own gardens. Glenn Mills manages the garden. He’s with OSU’s Ag school. He has a personal connection to the patients. He lost a brother to pancreatic cancer. “They like to come out and they chat about their gardens at home and pick the vegetables and no one ever complains about the chemotherapy they’re going through. It’s a complete escape from the life struggle that they’re going through," says Mills. The garden, in its second year, came out of brainstorming sessions between the OSU School of Agriculture and the James Cancer Hospital. Oncologist Steven Clinton says the garden helps ground cancer patients. “Through a program like this we’re helping them regain control of their lives, we’re giving them a way to empower themselves, get their confidence back and I think give them an opportunity to live a healthy survivorship," says Clinton. But the garden may do more than improve emotional health. Dr. Clinton is studying how foods like tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and soy can prevent cancer. Clinton says everyone should eat 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The garden helps patients do that. “We really want folks to choose a variety of foods in a way that they don’t need to take a supplement; because in all honesty if you’re choosing and composing or orchestrating a healthy diet you don’t need to rely on supplements for nutrients," says Clinton. Dr. Clinton hopes the garden becomes part of a research project to find out if growing and eating fresh vegetables benefits cancer patients. Clinton says other cancer hospitals around the country could plant vegetable gardens. That would be the suggestion of 82- year-old Charlotte Callahan. She was picking fresh beets – just two weeks after finishing her chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer. “I like vegetables and it’s good, you know we wanted to see what they had and it’s a beautiful garden. They have lots of things coming up and so it’s very pleasant and the people are wonderful," says Callahan.