Best of America

Making Gardens for Breast Cancer Patients

Roberta Dehman HershonReader's Digest Association

Our hero: Roberta Dehman Hershon, 60
Where she lives: Dedham, Massachusetts
How she helps: Making gardens for breast cancer patients

At age eight in Sharon, Massachusetts, Roberta Dehman Hershon met Beverly Eisenberg while skipping rope, and the two girls became lifelong friends. As adults, they enjoyed poring over gardening catalogs and visiting plant nurseries together.

When Eisenberg was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2004, Hershon felt helpless. “I wanted to make it all OK, but I couldn’t. But I could make sure she had flowers in her house all winter,” she says. “In the spring, I made sure her garden looked great.”

Eisenberg died in 2005, ten months after her diagnosis, at 55. “It was like my arm had been cut off,” says Hershon. “Then it came to me what I could do.” Acting on an idea she and Eisenberg had had, Hershon launched Hope in Bloom to create free gardens for breast cancer patients. With her friend in mind, Hershon planted the first garden in Sharon.

Hope in Bloom has now planted 110 gardens throughout Massachusetts. There are 200 breast cancer patients on the list for the next ones. Local companies occasionally donate supplies, and fund-raisers defray most of the cost of the plantings, which can run up to $3,000 per garden. The group’s 850 members help with upkeep, and landscape architects and designers donate their services to customize each garden to the owners’ tastes.

“Cancer patients spend many hours in sterile hospital environments. Coming home to a beautiful garden is a soothing respite,” says Judith Merritt, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Hope in Bloom planted a garden outside Merritt’s house last June. “We have hope that the garden will thrive—and that we will too,” she says.

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