GLOUCESTER, VA. –Sitting on a small wooden bench on the edge of the wood line behind the Middle Peninsula Cancer Center, Steve Spain smiled, amid the walkways weaving through freshly planted gardens and the tranquil trickle of a waterfall. He nodded his head and said, "She would have loved this. Really loved this."

Moments before, Spain's family, Riverside Health System and Foundation leadership as well as Walter Reed Hospital leadership and board members gathered for an intimate ceremony to dedicate the Shirley Spain Healing Garden, named in honor of Steve Spain's mother. Following several years of fundraising and months of construction work, the garden has become a more than 13,000-square-foot natural healing space for cancer patients and their families.

"The team and I at Riverside Middle Peninsula Cancer Center are honored to have the opportunity to be a part of the cancer journey that our patients take," said Susanna "Sunny" Gretsky, Office Manager of Medical Oncology at the Cancer Center. "We believe in healing the whole person –body, mind and spirit –with integrative medicine, which involves healing not only our patients, but also families and friends. The Shirley Spain Healing Garden is not only a beautiful visual of life, but also invites all that are touched by cancer to be still, cleanse the mind and heal the spirit." Integrative Medicine at Riverside includes nutrition, massage, music, palliative care and patient education. In 2015, the Riverside Integrative Medicine program on the Middle Peninsula provided over $95,000 worth of services at no cost to more than 2,000 patients during their cancer journeys.

Betty Blevins, Chairwoman of the Riverside Walter Reed Hospital Make a Difference Fund, said that during her own fight against breast cancer years ago, "I looked for places like this to do my meditation." The Healing Garden project "became a focus of our committee in 2013," Blevins said. 'The committee raised funds for the project during the Riverside Tree of Lights Galas in 2013 and 2014, then garnered individual donations from throughout the community."

When Steve Spain, a generous donor to Riverside Walter Reed Hospital and the Health System for many years, heard about the Healing Garden project, he immediately wanted to help make it happen. "My mother died of cancer, so I know how stressful dealing with the disease can be both to patients and family members," Spain said. She also "loved to garden. She got so much pleasure out of it even as she was fighting the cancer. The Healing Garden was an amazing idea and a wonderful way to honor my mother and make a difference to other cancer patients at the same time."

It will also be a wonderful addition for the Cancer Center's staff, said Ruth Van Davelaar, Director of Radiation Therapy for Riverside Health System, giving them "a chance to get out of the clinical setting and into nature." "Sitting out here, walking out here, patients can see something living, growing, flourishing," said Paula Cottee, the Senior Radiation Therapist and Manager of the Riverside Radiation Oncology-Gloucester at the Cancer Center. "Seeing that, being around that, is so important when our patients are going through their treatments."

The Healing Garden will continue to flourish as Cottee described even more so in the coming months. That's how it was designed, explained Trey Watford of Williams Landscape and Design, who donated the design of the Healing Garden, volunteered at fundraising events and also was contracted to build it. Watford's design brought in trees, like fast growing maples, that will provide a natural canopy over the Healing Garden. "We mixed in different colors and bloom times so there will always be color," Watford said. "There are masses of big ferns along the edge to blend into the natural woodlands around."

Early design phases of the Healing Garden included additional features, like a pergola and gazebo. Those elements can still be added with the support of the community. In addition, gifts of a brick or a bench, which can be engraved with family names, in celebration of a special occasion or to honor or remember a loved one, are still available. For more information about supporting the Healing Garden, contact Jennifer Frank at 757.234.8740 or jennifer.frank@rivhs.com.

"I honored my father with one of the bricks on the walkway," said Megan Kleckner, Riverside Vice President and Administrator of the Riverside Walter Reed Hospital. "This is a special place for the Spain family and mine as well."

Published: July 1, 2016