Beth MacDonell credits the kindness and encouragement of others for helping her get through grueling cancer radiation therapy in 2008. Now she’s using her “green thumb” talents to provide some kindness to others going through the same challenge.
Each week, Beth donates lavender bouquets and other fresh cut flowers, plus windowsill-sized tomato, basil and parsley plants to patients undergoing radiation therapy at the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center in Hillsboro.
A self-proclaimed “gardening nerd,” Beth is a 25-year veteran of the horticulture business who tends about 7,000 square feet of flowers and vegetables at her Gaston home. She currently sells her harvest each Saturday at the Hillsboro Farmers’ Market. Her booth is named for her pet miniature donkey: “Willie’s Corner, A Little Farm.”
Beth was inspired to donate after visiting the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center some months after her own treatment there. “I saw the patients’ faces and asked myself, ‘what can I do to help?’”
She empathized with gardeners in particular, remembering how she stared out her window in sad frustration, too exhausted from the cancer treatment to even pull a single weed. Beth hopes the small plants will provide a little taste of the garden, “and the flowers are just something nice to see after going through a radiation session.”
“This is a very touching and welcome gesture on Beth’s part,” said Tina Dickerson, director, Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center. “She has a real talent and passion for gardening, and her gifts of flowers and plants offer such a nice break in the routine for our patients. We are so grateful for her generosity.”
In 2007, Beth was diagnosed with adult soft-tissue sarcoma, a cancer that usually attacks connective tissues like muscles and tendons in the arms, legs and trunk. But Beth’s showed up in her neck. “It was a rare cancer in a rare location,” she said, adding that it required expert opinion from many sources. “My biopsy went around the country.”
Its rarity also meant fewer support resources than are available for those with more common cancers. “Feeling alone like that is very scary,” said Beth.
In December, on a day when she should have been celebrating her 50th birthday, Beth underwent surgery to remove the cancerous cells. But the sensitive location made it impossible to remove all of them.
Two months later, she was at the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center undergoing head and neck radiation, a particularly difficult procedure. But the radiation, which she described as the hardest part of the treatment process, was handled by “the best people possible,” she said of the Cancer Center staff. “I have never seen a facility staffed with such professional and friendly people.”
“I didn’t think I could finish,” Beth said of the difficult, five-days-a-week schedule. But the radiation therapists and other staff members “were so patient, so kind, so encouraging and very personal.”
While she is still dealing with some ongoing health concerns, Beth is thankful to be back into “soil and sales,” and taking more control of her life. “Twelve hours a day goes by fast when you love what you are doing.”