UAB recruiting Shelby County breast cancer survivors for study

By CASSANDRA MICKENS / Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM — Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham want to introduce Shelby County breast cancer survivors to a new kind of therapy — gardening.

Harvest for Health, an ongoing study at UAB, pairs breast cancer survivors with volunteer master gardeners from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The study began in Jefferson County in August 2013 and recruiting is now aimed at Shelby, Blount, St. Clair and Walker counties.

“Having a garden may help breast cancer survivors and their families eat better, get more exercise and become healthier,” said Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, professor in UAB’s Department of Nutrition Sciences and associate director for cancer prevention and control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Studies have shown a link between diet and cancer, and between physical activity and cancer. We want to see how cancer survivors respond to this gardening intervention, as well as how it affects their diet and exercise behaviors, and their health-related quality of life and physical health status.”

Eligible participants include breast cancer survivors from Shelby County who have completed their primary therapy — surgery, radiation or chemotherapy — and who do not raise vegetables already.

UAB provides tools and seedlings, and will either prepare a raised bed in the yard of a survivor’s home or provide EarthBoxes — large gardening containers on wheels — that can be kept on a porch or patio. Master gardeners visit with the survivors twice a month for one year, offering advice, expertise and suggestions, and answering questions.

“We’re looking for people who don’t already eat five or six servings of fruits or vegetables a day, or those who are not already physically active,” Demark-Wahnefried said. “We want to provide this study to women who will benefit the most. Besides being a good source of exercise, gardening is a good way to learn about healthy diet and nutrition, and to have some control over what one eats.”

Demark-Wahnefried wants to have the new gardeners planting early crops such as lettuce and pea pods by mid-February and expanding to tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale or just about any other suitable vegetable in the spring.

For more information on how to participate, contact study organizers at (205) 996-7367 or email harvest4health@uab.edu.