A cancer patient's secret garden

A tranquil garden area built by a local teenager in honor of her grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, will serve as a cancer treatment refuge for other patients at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

Kristine Seuylemezian, a junior at La Cañada High School, built the garden area to earn her Gold Award in the Girl Scouts, but the reward has been about much more than a one-time honor, she said.

Kristine said she wanted to create something for people to enjoy for years to come.

She spent six months raising money for the project, getting it designed and, finally, constructed.

Shuku Pournaghdi, Seuylemezian's grandmother, said she would have liked to have had a natural setting in which to rest after undergoing her cancer treatments five years ago. Fatigue was her No. 1 side effect, said Pournaghdi, who speaks Farsi.

Her daughter — and Kristine's mother — Kathy Seuylemezian served as translator.

“It's a very meaningful thing that she's done” Pournaghdi said. “It was such a hard battle to fight, and the fact that she took this on for me means a lot.”

The garden was the brainchild of Melina Thorpe, director of cancer services at the hospital, who herself is a breast cancer survivor. She's been pushing the idea for years.

The area outside the entrance to the cancer services building once was filled with unkempt shrubs and an overgrown evergreen pear tree.

“There was nowhere to sit,” said Teryl MacDougall, guest relations manager at the hospital.

Many cancer patients use community transportation, such as Dial-A-Ride, which may not arrive on time, so before the garden was constructed, they ended up sitting in the building's lobby.

The pear tree remains the focal point of the garden, but it has been trimmed and now is surrounded by a variety of plants and colorful flowers, as well as two benches.

The garden was designed by Kelly Mack, former morning anchor on KNBC News, who now has an interior and garden design business.

Kristine said she's known Mack's daughter for several years, so she was the first choice for the job.

Mack used plants that don't require much water, including shrubs that will grow quickly and create a dense barrier between the parking lot and garden.

“I wanted to create a little capsule of green,” Mack said.

As Kristine's grandmother sat on one of the benches in the garden, she said she knows there will be patients sitting in the same spot, facing their own uncertain futures.

“I've been there. Don't give up hope,” she advised.

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