At the recent American Society of Preventive Oncology, the Survivorship Special Interest Group held a breakfast session* in which four speakers gave presentations on innovative survivorship, community-based programs designed to provide cancer survivors with supportive services, both within and outside of the healthcare context. One such program, the Harvest for Health Project at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), was presented by Tony Glover, who serves as the Cullman County Extension Coordinator of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The program partners master gardeners in the State of Alabama with cancer survivors to create vegetable gardens at the survivors’ homes. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, PhD, RD, the Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and Principal Investigator for Harvest for Health, wanted to see if gardening could help these survivors increase their physical activity and vegetable consumption, in order to ultimately improve health. The project began with a pilot study in Jefferson County, Alabama, in 2011, funded by the Women’s Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. This study demonstrated improved hand strength and mobility, and ongoing work will continue to examine physical functioning as well as more formally evaluate the program’s feasibility and acceptability. The project has expanded and is now supported by funding from the National Cancer Institute (R21CA182508). UAB provides the tools and materials the participants need, and the master gardeners provide the training and mentoring the survivors need to establish and maintain their gardens.
The thing that strikes me the most about the Harvest for Health Project is how innovative it is, both in its design and its ability to source a whole new sector for helping cancer survivors improve their health: master gardeners. When we talk about multilevel interventions for cancer control, we usually consider the patient, family, and beyond that to the healthcare provider and system. This project is tapping a whole new offshoot to that multilevel context- community-based volunteers- to improve health and teach skills. Skills that can be sustained and passed onto others: friends, family members, perhaps even other survivors. Designing interventions to help survivors outside of the clinical care context introduces an element of community building that is not only novel, but of increasing interest as we continue to recognize cancer as a chronic condition.
What are other unique and innovative ways both to improve the quality of life of those affected by cancer and to build community?
*The session was entitled, “Strengthening Survivorship Research and Program Delivery through Partnership with Community Organizations,” and was organized by Katherine Sterba, PhD, from the Medical University of South Carolina and Karen Basen-Endquist, PhD, from the MD Anderson Cancer Center. It was held on March 17, 2015 at the University of Alabama Birmingham Wallace Tumor Institute. The session included four presenters: (1) Madeline Harris, RN, MSN, OCN, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham; (2) Tony Glover, Alabama Cooperative Extension System; (3) Kimberly Whelan, MD, MSPH, University of Alabama at Birmingham; and (4) Silvia Gisiger-Camata, RN,