The loss of a friend inspires Roberta Dehman Hershon to help others cope with cancer through gardening
By Judy Keenan
Twelve years ago Connie McLellan, who lives in the Forestdale section of Sandwich, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had chemotherapy and surgery and hoped that her cancer was gone forever. Then she was tested and found to be genetically positive for both ovarian and breast cancer resulting in yet more surgery. Connie’s breast cancer came back again in January of this year. This time her treatments will last a full year but her sister, Cynthia Paquette, also of Sandwich says, “she is on the mend.”
In August of 2005 Roberta Dehman Hershon lost her dear friend of almost fifty years, Beverly Eisenberg, to breast cancer. “I didn’t know what to do with the grief,” states Roberta. She speaks about how she and Beverly shared a love of gardening, pouring over seed catalogs, visiting local nurseries and digging in the dirt to achieve beauty. Hope in Bloom was started in 2007 as a tribute to her friend and Friday’s garden was the eighty-sixth that has been planted by her nonprofit organization.
There are over one hundred breast cancer patients who have applied for Hope in Bloom’s assistance with their gardens. “Everybody wants something different so we try to give them what they want. We will put in walkways, bird baths, vegetable gardens, herb gardens, outdoors container gardens or in-ground gardens. All of it is privately funded.”
Will Clarke of Perennial Solutions in North Falmouth is a landscape designer who found an article about Hope in Bloom and sent an email to Roberta offering his help if she ever had any gardens on the Cape. “It just seemed like a natural fit, “ he says, “I knew I was doing a good thing but I was surprised at how very rewarding it is.” His first garden design was for Sue Gierej, a teacher in the Harwich schools who lives in Dennis. Today he jokes about the topography of Connie’s garden, “They all are on steep slopes.”
During her chemo treatments at Cape Cod Hospital where she is a critical care nurse on staff, Connie was given a card about Hope in Bloom by a co-worker. After living in her home for more than twenty-years, Connie can tell you the history of many of her plants; a tree that was planted to celebrate the birth of one of her children that now reaches towards the sky or a sapling transplanted from a friend’s yard which is now a thriving bush. She knows her yard and watches with a steady smile as the volunteers unearth and dispose of poison ivy, locate the new steps, loosen the root balls of new plantings, pull endless weeds and dig holes. She approaches one of the volunteers with questions about a flowering plant he is working on and asks that the labels be left by the plants so she can identify all the new plants. Connie says when she gardens, “my garden boy is David, also my husband. In the fall I’ll clean and he’ll take it away.”
This Saturday, October 2nd, Hope in Bloom will plant their third garden on the Cape. This one is for Kathy Michaud of Harwich and Molly Hutt of Parterre Garden Services in Chatham will be the landscape designer.
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“Having something pretty to look at lowers blood pressure and makes people more receptive to treatment.” says Roberta. She goes on to say, “There have always been gardens. Eve met Adam in a garden.” When she goes on to talk about her own very large garden in Dedham one of the workers quips; “Your house IS a big garden, Roberta.” Connie’s sister, Cynthia chimes in, “Her heart is a big garden.”