Landscape artist recovering from chemo at St. Elizabeth’s | Community

From: St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Clinics

What happens when a landscaper and horticulturist faces an unexpected plague of thorns and thistles? Not the type of garden variety that invades and threatens the natural world, but the life-altering kind that ravages body, mind, and spirit and endangers its very existence. He stops and smells the roses.

For Mark Swart of Winona, this is his story. And right now, life has never been so sweet. For someone who has dedicated his career to transforming outdoor spaces, he knows a thing or two about dealing with invasive weeds. But when the nemesis attacking his lungs was diagnosed with stage four melanoma, it was a battle that required additional reinforcements.

Mark is well known for his landscape art and architectural expertise. His creative work adorns the surroundings of many homes and businesses in Winona and beyond. One such project is in a courtyard at Gundersen St. Elizabeth Hospital and Clinics in Wabasha. When Mark was hired to design a healing space for patients, he met Tom Crowley, senior consultant for St. Elizabeth’s Community Development Foundation, and a friendship was born that became a real lifeline for Mark.

“From the first day I walked into the hospital, I felt a sense of calm and contentment,” Swart explained. “It’s a friendly and welcoming place, just like the spaces I try to create.”

It was this lasting impression that prompted him to reconnect with Tom and Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s when cancer treatments left him weak, tired and wasting away. The initially prescribed immunotherapy and chemotherapy infusions took their toll. When lingering side effects and loss of appetite claimed 50 pounds, her oncology team at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, prescribed a new treatment plan, while her family urged help for care.

“I was living alone and so tired and sick,” he explained. “I was struggling to eat and taking care of myself was too much. At the start of the summer, I didn’t think I was going to make it. So, I called Tom. If I could find a temporary place to rest and recuperate, maybe I could make it through. And that’s exactly what happened.

Around the time Mark moved into St. Elizabeth’s Seniors Apartments, he was placed on an experimental oral chemotherapy drug. As Mark’s oncologist monitored his progress, the team at St. Elizabeth rallied around him to make him feel like home. A small apartment provided a haven for healing. Home care staff administered her medications and attended to her health care needs. The dietary staff prepared tasty and nutritious meals to tantalize her taste buds. Physiotherapy focused on rebuilding his balance, strength and endurance. Residents of seniors’ residences provided a calming presence and neighborly company.

All of this was necessary, but what really accelerated his recovery was not so much what the staff did but how they did it. This respite – away from work and family responsibilities – healed her body, but also nurtured her heart and soul.

“Everyone I met treated me with kindness, dignity and grace. The staff were professional and supportive. I was looked after so well. They seemed to know what I needed before I did. not have to worry about anything,” explained Mark. “I gave my full attention to my well-being. I felt my stress and anxiety melt away as I began to relax, knowing that I was in good hands. I remember wishing for a day when I would feel normal again and be back in the game. Shortly after, I woke up feeling better than I had been since long. It was a beautiful summer day. I took a walk along the river and thought to myself, ‘It’s a good day!’ »

Mark returned home in early August full of hope. His chemo is working. Her side effects disappeared. He is well on his way to regaining the weight he lost. St. Elizabeth’s and Gundersen Health System has given Mark the miracle of a second chance, and he plans to use the time he has in a different way. So he redraws his “landscape of life”. Like any healthy garden, it will need to weed (remove anything that threatens to stifle joy), prune (reduce work and move into semi-retirement), fertilize (strengthen its family roots and ties with friends), and water (take care of him and look after his well-being and enjoy every good day that remains).

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