Healing Labyrinth for Cancer Support

image: Thomas Baker
image: Thomas Baker

[The labyrinth] is…at once the cosmos, the world, the individual life, the temple, the town, man, the womb—or intestines of the Mother (earth), the convolutions of the brain, the consciousness, the heart, the pilgrimage, the journey, and the Way.
–Jill Purce, The Mystic Spiral

The Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support was built in 2000 as part of the Athens Regional Medical Center (ARMC). The Center serves the community of Athens, GA and the northeast region of the state. It is a welcoming “safe harbor” for anyone affected by cancer and provides resources, research, and access to social services, as well as a supportive therapeutic outdoor environment for patients and their families as they deal with the physical, social, and emotional impacts of cancer treatment. The Center and surrounding gardens also serves ARMC medical professionals and caregivers who care for these patients and their families.

Construction on the Loran Smith Center began in 1999. With therapeutic gardens and healing landscapes as her research area, Professor Marguerite Koepke saw this as a special opportunity to establish a dialogue with the hospital and Center. ARMC was very receptive to the collaboration and Koepke prepared the first master plan for their approximately two-acre site.

At that time, Koepke was also establishing a new semester-long course in therapeutic garden and healing landscapes design at the University of Georgia (UGA). She saw her relationship with the ARMC and the Center as an important opportunity to involve students in local service learning projects, especially those in medical settings, with real clients and real sites. Over the years, as the ARMC campus has grown and changed, her classes have been involved in multiple projects, including several revised master plans and small garden area designs. Design elements in these long-term master plans have typically included a grotto, a meditation/labyrinth garden, memorial garden and numerous naming opportunities, a wetland meadow with observation points for quiet meditation, woodland walking paths, small play areas for young users, and an area designated for a small greenhouse to support horticulture therapy and year-round use.

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