Page last updated at 06:21 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 07:21 UK

Award for cancer patients' garden

By Hywel Griffith
BBC Wales health correspondent


Helen Hobrough, a former patient on the restricted ward, describes how daffodils in the garden brightened her time in the restricted access ward

A hospital garden transformed by former cancer patients has been given a special award to recognise their work.

The garden at the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff was set up for people who have to spend time in isolation after radioactive treatment.

The patients themselves decided to tackle the weeds and plant flowers within a controlled access zone.

It has been given this year's Cardiff in Bloom award for a community building garden with limited access.

The hospital's two shielded rooms are used by patients with thyroid cancer following treatment with radioactive iodine.

As the hospital's principal physicist for nuclear medicine Sue Hooper explains, they can be in isolation for an extended period.

Site before work on the garden began
The area was covered in weeds before the work began

"They have to stay in those rooms for several days until the radioactivity levels in their body are safe enough to return to their homes and their family members," she said.

Whilst patients can receive meals and are able to have visitors, they can only speak to them through a glass partition, as access around the area has to be restricted.

"It made it very difficult for the hospital gardeners to maintain the area outside," explains Ms Hooper, "and we ended up with 6ft high weeds and a lot of grass."

Cy Davies from Pontypool, Torfaen, was one of the patients who decided to tackle the garden, having spent several days in isolation at the hospital himself eight years ago.

"You're in the room and you've only got your future to think about following a diagnosis of cancer," Mr Davies explains.

"Originally we were looking out from the room on to this area which was totally overgrown."

He joined together with other former patients to create Thyroid Cancer Support Group - and set about fundraising.

"When we started we said 'let's do something for the patients coming behind us' and make a garden."

Over the last three years the barren areas around the isolation rooms have been transformed into a low-maintenance garden that keeps its colour throughout the seasons.

Isolation garden
A volunteer tends to the garden during a period when the isolation rooms are unoccupied

Helen Hobrough, from Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, was one of the patients to benefit from the transformation when she received treatment 18 months ago.

"It made a huge difference," she says.

"When I was in, I was very fortunate to look out of the window to see a mass of daffodils," Mrs Hobrough explains.

"The golden colour of the daffodils being such a happy colour was such a joy to look out on."

The garden is maintained by volunteers, including former patients, at times when the isolation rooms are not in use.

The team were presented with their special award at the Cardiff In Bloom awards on Monday evening.

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