Tuesday, June 7, 2011
By Barbara Williams

For just a moment, patients can forget they’re in a cancer center.

The Manhattan skyline offers a spectacular background for lush boxwoods, vibrant flowers, and the herbs and vegetables growing in the rooftop garden at the John Theurer Cancer Center at the Hackensack University Medical Center.

The garden, outside a glass wall on the second floor, offers patients and family members a brief respite from the rigors and boredom of treatment.

“Seeing growing plants is rejuvenating for human beings,” said Dr. Andre Goy, chairman and medical director of the center. “This gives patients a chance to see something positive, to remind them there’s life around them.”

The 7,000-square-foot garden, built by Robert Schucker from R&S Landscaping in Midland Park, grows just outside the windows where patients sit in recliners for chemotherapy treatments. It is a green project that not only enriches the emotional, spiritual and mental health of patients but helps protect the environment, hospital officials say.

The plants are rooted in a combination of lava and expanded shale that needs little watering. They are in 2-foot trays that can be picked up and replaced. Insulation spread under these planters and the white concrete stones that form the sitting area will expand the life of the roof, Schucker said.

“This was an extremely challenging job because of the space but very rewarding, especially when I was able to see patients and their families enjoying it,” Schucker said. “Green roofs and rooftop gardens can be used in many applications on many different types of buildings — we just finished one on a residential home in Bergen County.”

Schucker said a rooftop garden costs between $15 and $30 a square foot. The hospital site was particularly challenging because the birch trees in massive planters and some of the other greenery had to be brought up by crane.

On Tuesday morning, Dawn Masterson stood by the railing taking in the view of the Manhattan skyline. She was preparing to take her husband, Michael, to their Budd Lake home after a 12-day stay in Hackensack while he received his second stem cell transplant.

“It’s very soothing to be up here and just look out at the city,” Masterson said. “It’s great to get away from the medical environment with all the machines beeping and people talking. Yesterday my husband was able to come out here with me and he thought it was wonderful.”

In addition to the flowers and trees, the rooftop oasis also holds vegetable and herb plants, which will be plucked when ready and used in the center’s kitchen classes for patients and their families.

“Cancer patients want desperately to get back to their lives and the garden is part of our mission to help people do that,” said Dr. Andrew Pecora, chief innovations officer and vice president of cancer services. “The cooking classes help people learn about healthier diets. All of these pieces are part of the environment we offer — where we look at the entire person.”

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