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Planting Gardens of Hope for Breast Cancer Patients

The nonprofit Hope in Bloom is one woman’s way of honoring her late friend and spreading joy to others with the disease 

By Gwen Moran | June 28, 2013
Roberta Dehman Hershon flowers
Roberta Dehman Hershon brings hope and flowers to women with breast cancer.
Photo courtesy of Meri Bond Photography

Roberta Dehman Hershon was 7 years old, riding a bike in her suburban Boston hometown, when she met 8-year old Beverly Eisenberg, who became her lifelong best friend.

As kids, the two were inseparable. Beverly’s father used to say, “Wherever Roberta is, that’s where Beverly is.” 


 
Each married, but they lived only a few towns away from each other for most of their lives and always stayed in touch.

In the early 1980s, when Hershon started a garden in her yard, Eisenberg wanted one, too. Together, they pored over gardening catalogs, chose plants and dug the dirt. 
 
A Tribute to Her Best Friend

In October 2004, Eisenberg, then 54, told Hershon she had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. Knowing how much her friend loved flowers, Hershon vowed to tend Eisenberg’s garden while she was unable to do so. The two discussed doing similar projects together for other breast cancer patients.
 
(MORE: Passionate About a Cause? Start a Nonprofit)

Even on Eisenberg’s worst days, she always delighted in the fresh blooms that Hershon brought, whether purchased or cut from the garden. Hershon’s floral vigil continued for 10 months until Eisenberg died in August 2005.
 
“When she passed away, I felt like my arm had been cut off,” says Hershon, a writer who also owns the public relations/marketing company, Blue Plate Communications. Not one for wallowing, she decided to channel her grief into something positive.

So Hershon moved forward with the idea she and her late friend had discussed and founded Hope in Bloom, a nonprofit in Dedham, Mass., that donates and plants flower or vegetable gardens free of charge at the homes of Massachusetts breast cancer patients.
 
(MORE: Gardening’s Surprising Health Benefits)

The time-consuming work it took to get Hope in Bloom’s tax-exempt designation, recruit volunteers and find donors took Hershon’s mind off how much she missed Eisenberg.
 
120 Gardens for Breast Cancer Patients

In 2007, Hope in Bloom planted the first healing garden for a breast cancer patient in the same town where Hershon and Eisenberg met nearly five decades earlier. Since then, the organization’s roughly 850 volunteers have planted 120 gardens throughout the Bay State. 
 
(MORE: The Stops and Starts of a Breast Cancer Survivor’s Journey)
 
The process goes like this: Hershon reviews an application for a garden and verifies that the individual is a breast cancer patient. Then, Hope in Bloom interviews that person to determine the best garden match. Some choose indoor gardens; others opt for patio or in-ground versions (volunteers sometimes tend the outdoor gardens for the first year.) In certain cases, the plants are perennials and in others they aren't.
 
While the flora is delivered and planted free of charge, it’s decidedly not without cost to Hope in Bloom.

A small indoor garden in containers typically costs the group $200 to $800. A patio container garden goes from about $800 to $1,200. A 12-foot-square outdoor garden can run as high as $3,000.
 
The Challenge of Finding Donors

Hope in Bloom holds a few fundraisers throughout the year, but Hershon says finding donors has been a challenge and limits her organization’s scope.

The organization currently has a backlog of gardens and can’t take new requests, although it will work with people who want to sponsor a garden or raise money to plant one for a specific breast cancer patient.
 
Hershon is working tirelessly to find companies that will donate plants and materials. She also hopes to find a celebrity spokesperson who’ll help spread the word. Ultimately, Hershon’s goal is for Hope in Bloom to blossom nationwide. 


 
Many of the patients who’ve been beneficiaries of the group’s gifts are now in remission. Gardens don’t cure cancer, of course, but Hershon has found that Hope in Bloom’s donations have helped make recipients and their caregivers feel better during a rough time often filled with painful treatments.
 
“The joy and the satisfaction of knowing that you have put a smile on somebody’s face and made them forget the emotional rollercoaster they’re on during treatment is just so rewarding,” Hershon says.

Gwen Moran is a small business authority who writes for Next Avenue and other media outlets. She is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans and has been running her own businesses since 1992.

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