How Ohio State's Garden of Hope offers healing for cancer survivors: BTN LiveBIG

How Ohio State's Garden of Hope offers healing for cancer survivors: BTN LiveBIG

When she was 12, Colleen Spees lost her brother to cancer; decades later, her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Spees eventually learned her entire family was vulnerable to Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a genetic disorder that increases a person’s chances of developing cancer.

As a result of her family’s experience, Spees dedicated herself to making the world a better place for those infected by the horrible disease.

Over the years, Colleen Spees became Dr. Colleen Spees, assistant professor at OSU’s College of Medicine Division of Medical Dietetics & Health Sciences. In her current role, she attends to cancer survivors’ health – inside and out.

Her work helped inspire Garden of Hope. More than just a plot of dirt capable of growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables, the garden allows cancer survivors to be more active, partner with university experts to improve their lifestyle and ease some of the burden they face because of their health. The goal is to develop patterns that will continue over time, leading to healthier lives.

“The Garden of Hope is a beautiful example of a land-grant university maximizing its full potential in terms of education, research and extension,” Spees says.

Built for cancer survivors and their caregivers, Spees has been an active leader in the garden since it was founded in 2012. Dr. Spees describes the two-acre plot of land located within the Ohio State campus as “an urban oasis.”

The Garden of Hope is open to any cancer survivor and their caretaker; prior to the harvest season, guests are required to attend an orientation. As survivors garden, Spees and her colleagues conduct research on their physical and mental health. The hope is that the more information they can gain, the more effective the treatment plans created by doctors for their patients.

“When you think about cancer and what you can control and you can’t control, this is something that we give them that they can control,” says Spees. “We do not tell them what to do. What we provide them with is a multi-faceted intervention that includes whatever they need.”

Recently, Spees and her colleagues have looked at reducing the weight of cancer survivors. The majority of people who overcome cancer have a higher body mass index than the general population, so the Garden of Hope has put an emphasis on eating healthier, reducing portion sizes and increasing physical fitness. By showing survivors the best ways to cook and exercise, Ohio State researchers aim to give the them a path to a healthier lifestyle both in the short- and long-term.

“This is very close to my heart because of those personal and professional reasons. We want more survivors to live,” Spees said. “More and more people with cancer are living because we have early detection, we have better treatment. But we really don’t do a great job after people are done with medical treatment in helping them to find a new normal, to identify secondary cancers or recurring issues.”

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