Cancer: Cure from the Outside-In

FRESNO, Calif.

Start with some water, toss in some sunshine, and add a quick stroll through the garden. That's the sweet spot for Emily Meoli.

"I think it's a very peaceful activity," Meoli told Ivanhoe.

After a breast cancer diagnosis three years ago followed by 18 months of chemo, Meoli was lost.

"Chemo ended. My hair was growing back, and I was like, 'OK, I want to be me," Meoli said.

Oddly, her green thumb gave her the green light to return to normal. Seems gardens, like the one at Mercy Medical Center, pack some special medicine.

"You're actually feeling well before you're diagnosed, and then, as part of the treatment, we make you feel pretty poorly," Kathy Helzlsouer, M.D., from Mercy Medical Center, told Ivanhoe.

A Georgia Tech study also indicates access to nature, in general, alleviates stress for hospital patients and their families.

"The program is designed to give them tools so that they can help themselves get to that point where they are getting better. They're back to where they should be," Dr. Helzlsouer said.

Dr. Helzlsouer used an eight-week program to get Meoli back on track. Her family is now one of the 91-million nationwide that get in the garden daily. Three years after her diagnosis, the benefits are obvious.

"You need to heal the whole person. Healing is dealing with the whole person," Meoli said.

Getting a hand in the dirt can offset the rigors of treatment. A Mercy study finds a post-op gardening program boosted survivors' stamina by 40-percent. A nationwide study found more than 50 percent of patients use gardening as a form of outdoor therapy. Another pair of studies found female patients exposed to nature had less cancer-related anxiety and stress.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at

Kathy J. Helzlsouer, MD, MHS
Director, Prevention and Research Center
Mercy Medical Center

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