HUNTSVILLE, Ala., May 8, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Three cancer survivors, their families, friends and members of the Huntsville community celebrated life today at the Intergraph® Garden of Hope spring dedication in a poignant display of inspiration at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.
The spring 2012 Garden of Hope honors Barbara Azzam, a mother and vocational counselor who faced two cancer diagnoses simultaneously; Kathy Gilder, who battled breast cancer while learning to let go of her control and lean on her faith for strength; and Mike Worley, who viewed his diagnosis as an opportunity to relate to others and comfort them on their own cancer journeys.
Since its inception in 2006, the Garden of Hope has served as an artistic and meaningful sanctuary filled with beautiful flowers, plants, trees and shrubs representing each of the three honorees' personal fight against cancer. The Garden of Hope, a place of determination and optimism, is also a means of raising community awareness about the disease the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates claimed the lives of more than 570,000 people in the United States last year alone.
"For six years, the Garden of Hope has been an inspirational solace to those diagnosed or affected by cancer," said Ed Porter, Executive Vice President of Human Resources, Intergraph. "These honorees remind us of how precious life is, and they encourage us by their strength, faith and perseverance throughout their cancer journey."
Plantings at the Garden of Hope are held in the spring and fall each year when the honorees, their families and friends and Intergraph volunteers join together to plant gardens that represent the honorees' personal battles with cancer. Honorees are granted creative freedom to choose which flowers, plants, trees and shrubs will adorn their gardens as a therapeutic outlet for expressing their dreams, hopes and fears. The emotional inspiration these courageous individuals lend to their gardens makes Garden of Hope a truly moving experience.
Spring 2012 Intergraph Garden of Hope Honorees:
After a routine mammogram, Barbara Azzam was asked to return to her doctor's office for a biopsy. While awaiting her results from the biopsy, Barbara also had her annual pap smear. On May 26, 2011, Barbara's doctor delivered unexpected news – she had breast cancer. While dealing with this life-changing realization, her results returned from her other biopsy. Two weeks after her first cancer diagnosis, Barbara also learned she had endometrial cancer.
Barbara had difficulty finding a local cancer treatment center that could treat both her cancers at once. After making several calls, Barbara connected with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Chicago. After her initial consultation, doctors suggested Barbara undergo both surgeries simultaneously – a complete hysterectomy and total mastectomy on one side. She waited more than two months for her operation, but on August 4, Barbara finally had her life-saving procedure.
Throughout her journey, Barbara's most difficult struggle was the change brought on by her dual diagnosis. Barbara owns her own business as a vocational counselor, and with the pre-operative consultations and follow-up meetings after her surgery in Chicago, coordination with her clients became demanding. "I wanted to think I could deal with my cancer and move on without it affecting me, but that didn't happen," shared Barbara. "I had less energy. I was stressed with juggling work and travel to Chicago. It's not something you can easily digest and move forward with, but you can get through it."
Barbara gathered strength from her Christian faith, family, friends, and fellow cancer patients. Their affirmation that God was in control gave her the power to continue her journey. Barbara also found solace in the memory of her mother, Helen Hudson, who passed away from breast cancer several years ago. As a breast cancer survivor, Barbara's garden displays various shades of pink cosmos and petunias, a particular favorite of hers since she was a child. She also selected bright green coleus to represent her renewed life.
Barbara is now cancer free. She is the wife of Dick Azzam and the proud mother of two children – Katie and Ben. When asked what she wants her garden visitors to remember, she stated, "Be your own advocate and maintain control of your healthcare. Don't skip those annual exams. Stay positive, and always keep your sense of humor. Above all, keep God on your daily contact list."
A planner by nature, Kathy Gilder schedules her mammogram each October – breast cancer awareness month. When her 2011 test returned questionable results, Kathy was scheduled for a biopsy. On Halloween, Kathy was diagnosed with two types of breast cancer.
"My natural human response to my diagnosis was fear and a desire to run from that reality," shared Kathy. But soon, Kathy began searching for acceptance of her condition. She asked her father-in-law, who was praying for a miraculous healing for Kathy's body, to instead pray for peace and acceptance. "Because of these prayers and those of others, my spirit changed, and I began looking at this experience as a gift to embrace and perhaps bless others," Kathy said.
In December, Kathy had a lumpectomy, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy beginning in January. There were numerous ups and downs with multiple side effects to deal with along the way. But, Kathy's biggest challenge was giving up any sense of control. "I've always been very organized and used to feeling in control – but cancer takes that away. Having to let go was tough, but it has brought a whole new depth to my relationship with and reliance upon God."
Kathy had tremendous support from her extended family, church, neighbors, and especially her Huntsville Botanical Garden family, where she serves as Vice President of Operations. Kathy was particularly encouraged by her husband Steve, who in loving support, shaved off his hair after Kathy lost hers during chemotherapy treatments.
Kathy's garden represents life and all its idiosyncrasies. She selected a rainbow of colors to reflect God's covenant of grace for better days to come. A multi-layered garden of different heights, smells, and textures imitate the many layers of cancer – for those afflicted and those touched. As someone who is typically systematic and organized, Kathy hopes her garden reflects the chaotic, "hot mess" the journey of cancer, as well as life itself, can be.
Kathy completed her four rounds of treatment in March and is currently undergoing radiation. Kathy's message for other cancer survivors is, "The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. Grasp the hand that He offers for strength, drink His Word for nourishment, and share your journey with those He places in your life – and you in turn will provide strength and inspiration for others. Choose to take the path of faith, hope, and love."
Mike Worley was lifting a computer out of his car when his back popped. He initially assumed it was a pulled muscle, but after months of constant pain, Mike had a CAT scan performed. On April 6, 2011, much to his surprise, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
The Worley family – wife Pam, daughter Abbie, and son Michael – didn't accept this diagnosis as debilitating, but rather focused on Mike's first step to recovery – a kyphoplasty to treat his vertebral compression fracture. After healing from surgery, Mike began chemotherapy treatments. Despite the expected side effects, Mike was blessed with modest symptoms. After chemotherapy, Mike's cancer cell count dropped from 60 percent to seven.
Throughout recovery, Mike was overwhelmed with support from friends at home and strangers abroad who read his story on CaringBridge about his struggles, triumphs, and his faith in God that saw him through it. "I have always been a self-reliant person," explains Mike. "At first, I didn't want anyone to feel burdened by my condition. I realized later that refusing their help would be robbing them of their blessing. Their assistance and support was as much a blessing for me as it was for them."
In October 2011, Mike underwent a stem cell transplant. This procedure, although successful, destroyed his immune system. After the transplant, the Worley family spent 30 days in isolation to begin rebuilding his immunity. Eight days into the isolation, Mike had a fever and was admitted into the hospital. After stabilizing and completing his quarantine, Mike climbed in his tree stand in the woods and thanked God for his recovery. "We never had a day of doubt that everything was going to be okay," stated Pam. "Our house was a house of joy. It was our positive attitude that got us through it."
Mike's garden reflects his outlook throughout his cancer journey – bright, vibrant, and full of life. A chartreuse sweet potato vine intertwines in a blanket of red salvia, and is peppered with basil, rosemary, and sage to reflect Mike and Pam's love for cooking and entertaining.
Mike is currently cancer free and continues to impress his positive attitude on other cancer patients. "Joy is independent of your circumstances," he says. "What we go through doesn't have to be a bad thing. You can actually use it for good. Every negative thing in life is an opportunity."
For more information about the Garden of Hope, please visit www.intergraphfoundation.org.
About Huntsville Botanical Garden
Huntsville Botanical Garden is open year-round and features a large nature center, a picture perfect aquatic garden, a spectacular wildflower and nature trail and numerous specialty gardens and plant collections. The 112-acre garden is a privately operated 501(c)(3) non-profit organization garden which receives a majority of its support from garden members, supporters and corporate donors. With more than 7,000 member families and 1,500 volunteers, the Huntsville Botanical Garden is truly the community's garden.
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