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1999 Cancer Lifeline

Cancer Lifeline, located in Seattle, WA serves over 7000 people per year and strives to improve the quality of life for those living or affected by cancer. It prides itself as a non-judgmental, safe haven for those affected to affirm their right to self-determination. Programs are designed to decrease the stress and sense of isolation that come with a cancer diagnosis. Programs, classes and workshops include family, kids and parents supports groups, nutrition, relaxation, meditation and visualization, healing arts for creative expression, exercise and health promotion, workplace consultation and a Life Line newsletter. In our project we worked very closely with the staff and participants in the creative healing arts program.

In 1999 Cancer Lifeline moved into their newly remodeled facility, the Dorothy O’Brien Center. The building had three roof decks earmarked to become gardens words of the client would “ restore a sense of order, safety, and privacy for those dealing with the chaos induced by this illness. The act of gardening produces a peaceful, effortless concentration that increases our capacity to rest. It creates more outward perceptions rather than inward self-consciousness, a valuable balance to the uneasiness of illness. This then became our mandate.

On their own Cancer Lifeline had held one focus group to discuss the goals of the gardens.

From these came several points:

  • Our desire is to create a space that invites the cancer patient to be rather than do. A haven, embraced by the natural world that encourages introspection, self-expression and creativity. A place of tranquility, energy and meditation.
  • A garden that will stimulate the senses, exudes a caring touch, attract animals.
  • A garden the surprises with whimsy.
  • A garden that expresses the power and order of nature.
  • A garden that might incorporate color therapy, herbalism, and aromatherapy.
  • A place for relaxation and visualization.

Through a participatory process the University of Washington studio members worked with the Cancer Lifeline participants and staff to create designs for three gardens. The first is the earth/sky garden that is one large space that can be divided into 2 spaces through a sliding copper door. One space is designed as a spill over from the healing arts classroom where participants can come out and work in this space. The other is designed for groups to get together more informally or to be used for therapy groups etc. When the doors are opened the space becomes one continuous space and this is used for large gatherings, rituals and celebrations. The first space is the “earth room” and has a lot of copper, a mandala overhead and is more intimate and contained. The second room, the “sky room” and is open above and oriented to the spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains to the east.

The second garden, the garden of contemplation, is designed to be used by one or two people. Lattices and bamboo provide screening and allows a degree of privacy for the users. A small rock and water garden contain some sculptures designed so mementos can be left for those that have passed on. This design reflects a strong Asian influence.

The third garden is the garden and celebration and it is a kitchen garden with many medicinal herbs and edible plants. This garden is used mainly by the staff who hold meetings and eat lunch in this space. A copper arbor provides shade overhead.