Retired Northampton General Hospital oncologist training to garden design for cancer patients

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A retired Northampton General Hospital oncologist is training to be an expert in gardens designed for cancer patients.

Dr Jill Stewart is now studying horticulture and garden design at Moulton College after spending 30 years as a consultant oncologist at NGH.

Always holding a passion for plants and botanical art, she took Royal Horticultural Society exams in 2011 and then started on a foundation degree in Horticulture and Garden Design at Moulton College.

She is now competing against fellow students in a garden design competition run by the Linford Wood Medical Centre in Milton Keynes.

Simon Lewis, business development manager, said: “Our ethos is to provide integrated holistic care for our patients and we wanted to extend this beyond the centre itself.

“We approached Moulton College to see if their students wanted to get involved in designing a holistic garden in an area of land that lays next to our chemotherapy unit.

“We provided a brief, explaining the impact cancer and its treatment can have on patients, such as sensitivity to sunlight, nausea and tiredness.

“We didn’t think for one moment that one of the students would already know all this and more.”

Dr Stewart said the fact that current chemotherapy drugs were derived from plant molecules, as well as the idea of plant defence has always been a source of fascination, because of its usefulness in terms of cancer treatment development.

But she always enjoyed gardening and found it relaxing after a busy day at NGH.

She said: “Clearly no patient wants to be in the situation of having to have cancer treatment.

“Their life is suddenly disrupted, it becomes difficult to make plans, confidence is rocky and they may have to cope with treatment side effects that vary greatly from person to person.

“I think kindness and care, a calm and efficient environment and minimising the time that a patient has to spend being treated helps.

“Concentration is usually short and people may feel ‘foggy’ on chemotherapy, so a pretty and interesting garden will give a nice diversion even, if only for a few minutes.

“For those who may be short on stamina because of their treatment side effects, having an escape route into nature can really lift spirits.”