Nature Has the Power to Alleviate Emotional Distress

Posted on 20/11/2015

By Jeannine Lafrenière, Founder and President, Forget for a Moment Foundation

Photo of a plant branch

Image courtesy of Nisreen Elias

UPDATED: January 19, 2016

This is the first time that I’ve revealed on social media such a detailed account of my personal experience, but I sense it is important to publish this in order to provide a better understanding of the raison d’être for the FORGET FOR A MOMENT FOUNDATION.

In July of 2008, I was diagnosed with Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), the most frequently occurring type of skin cancer, but fairly unknown among the general public. More often than not, BCC attacks the face and, although it is rarely fatal, the disfiguration resulting from the disease and from the required treatment may cause irreparable damage to the patient’s sense of self. Mohs Micrographic Surgery is the most effective technique for this type of cancer, and this is the treatment I underwent in a Montréal hospital, Québec, Canada.

Patients have the cancerous tissue removed a layer at a time and then sit in the waiting room for 60-90 minutes waiting for the results of mapping and microscopic examination of the tissue and the margins surrounding it. If the margins are cancer-free, the surgery is ended. If not, more tissue is removed and analysis repeated until there is no more indication of cancer. Each time more tissue is removed, the patient returns to the waiting room with a bigger and bigger surgical bandage.

Although this type of skin cancer is not usually fatal, the more extensive the intervention, the more emotionally destructive it is for the patient. Whether we admit it or not, we tend to notice a person’s face first and to make a judgement based on that first sight. You can well imagine the anxiety, fear and the stress level of each patient during those waiting periods.

People don’t look at each other, don’t speak to each other, because they see the bandages getting larger and larger and they don’t know what to say. There is nothing to distract you or to allow you to escape the apprehension, the dread, nothing to give you a moment of tranquility.

Every six months, there were follow-up appointments. Once again I, and others like me, waited to hear if the cancer had returned. And we endured the same fear, anxiety and stress in that same bleak room. Fortunately, I had an extraordinary doctor and experienced a full recovery from this operation.

I love nature.

It brings me a sense of well-being, a peace that nothing else can. A few months before the surgery, I had heard talk of living walls. At the time, this was a very new concept, never seen in a hospital setting. I have no doubt that if nature, in the form of a living wall, no matter how small, had been available to me in that waiting room, it would have enabled me to escape into the beauty and peace that nature brings.

It is from this personal experience that the germ of an idea was born in July 2011. We would bring nature into hospital settings and, especially, into waiting rooms, in order to give life and beauty to those terribly cold and impersonal spaces.

Extensive research followed and I found and read study after study that confirmed the positive effect of bringing nature to the sick, their loved ones and their caregivers.  Yet, at that time, nowhere in Canada was anyone incorporating nature into the design of hospitals. Yes, there were a very few outdoor gardens, but no natural elements appeared inside these facilities.

I have been fortunate to have wonderful people around me who believed in my idea and in this unique and innovative concept of bringing nature into hospital waiting rooms. Who among us has not gone through anxious hours accompanying a loved one, a child or a parent, not knowing what might come. And that is why, in March of 2012, the FORGET FOR A MOMENT FOUNDATION was created, an organization comprised entirely of volunteers, whether full time working professionals or retirees, who give freely of their time and their expertise.

Our first project, and the first of its kind in a Canadian hospital will be installed in one of the hospitals in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, preferably in a children’s hospital. A living wall will be located in a waiting room of one of its facilities.*

Our Foundation never could have gotten to this stage if I hadn’t been able to count on all the extraordinary people who surround me and to the generosity of the individuals, groups and companies who have supported and partnered with us.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

(Translated from the French by Sue Moerman)

This article first appeared on LinkedIn, November 17, 2015.

*Please note that the location of the project changed effective January 17th 2016