Tribute to hope: Atlantic Canada’s first garden for cancer survivors almost finished

The finish line is in sight for a Nova Scotia couple who have spent the last two and a half years working to create Atlantic Canada’s first garden for cancer survivors.

Judie and Jim Edgar are both cancer survivors.

Judie was diagnosed with breast cancer twice, in 2003 and in 2013, and Jim was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2017. Both have recovered.

Judie said the Daffodil Garden for Cancer Survivors is meant to show people that a cancer diagnosis isn’t necessarily a death sentence.

“When you hear the word ‘cancer’, you think of people who didn’t survive,” she said. “You read it in newspapers, you hear from family and friends. Even the park benches have plaques.

“But there’s so many survivors out there like Jim and I who are surviving and thriving that we just thought it would be a very wonderful message.”

The entry points to the ribbon-shaped paths will have names. (Alex Cooke/CBC)

Jim said the term “survivor” also extends to the friends and family of people who have had cancer.

“They were there to comfort, to talk to, to go to treatments with them. They’re survivors in their own right as well,” he said.

“Although they haven’t experienced cancer firsthand, they’ve experienced it secondhand from the person they’ve been doing the journey with.”

Judie said doctors and health-care workers are included as well, because they’ve worked with people who have both survived and didn’t survive cancer. “It’s got to be tough on them,” she said.

She said she was inspired by similar gardens in Ontario while she was living in Mississauga during her first round with breast cancer.

‘Everybody has their own story’

The garden is in downtown Dartmouth, along the harbour walk near the Alderney ferry terminal, and offers a scenic view of the Halifax harbour.

Judie said she didn’t want it to be near a hospital or treatment centre, since survivors and people with cancer already spend a lot of time at hospitals.

The concrete path winding through the garden is in the shape of a cancer awareness ribbon. At the centre of the ribbon stands a statue depicting a boy, a middle-aged woman and an elderly man, showing that cancer doesn’t discriminate. 

The people in the statue, sculpted by artist Ivan Higgins of Concrete Creations, are from different generations to show that cancer doesn’t discriminate. (Alex Cooke/CBC)

The three figures are all connected in some way: the woman at the centre has her arms around the other two, and the old man and the boy are holding hands.

“One of the things that we’ve found in this journey is that cancer’s become such a connector,” Jim said, explaining why the figures are connected. 

“Everybody has their own story, either personal, or a family member, or whatever.”

The project was supported by all three levels of government, and funding came in the form of a grant from the provincial department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, money from municipal district capital funds, and a grant from CN Rail.

They also held fundraisers and received a lot of support from the community.

The Edgars say they’re grateful to the community for their support. (Alex Cooke/CBC)

Since starting the project, Judie said the garden’s Facebook page has received many messages from people who have been touched by cancer in some way, be it survivors themselves, or someone with a loved one who has or had cancer.

“I had a very touching one. She said her mother had just started her cancer treatments, her radiation, and this is part of the walk she walks on her daily route,” Judie said.

“And she said, ‘I’m so excited that she’s going to see this be created and be able to rest there as she walks along.'”

Sam Austin, the councillor representing downtown Dartmouth, described the garden as “a wonderful addition to Dartmouth and the municipality as a whole.”

He said while there is a large awareness of cancer in general, the people who survived the illness aren’t always acknowledged.

“This is something that acknowledges the survivors of cancer, the people who battled the disease that leaves its scars, but then they carry on,” he said.

Some work still needs to be done, but the Edgars hope to open the garden soon. (Alex Cooke/CBC)

The Edgars are expecting concrete to go in around the artistic feature next week. Crews will also install yellow chairs and benches, laser-cut with inspirational messages and daffodils, the symbol of the Canadian Cancer Society.

Judie said the society was a big help in promoting the project and working with them to make it happen.

Jim said they hope to have a community event to plant daffodil bulbs in October.

The couple couldn’t say when the garden will officially open, but they say it will be in the near future. Once that happens, Judie said they look forward to spreading their message of hope.

“People think cancer is a death sentence — and people do still pass away — but there’s so many survivors out there,” she said. “We’re just trying to make a difference in our corner of the world, and hopefully this will make a difference for a lot of people.”

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