SALT LAKE CITY — When she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dr. Jan Byrne didn't know of any survivors of the disease.
"It's a devastating disease — a silent killer," she said. "A lot of people don't make it."
Byrne's cancer was found in the early stages, however, and after six months of chemotherapy and three major surgeries at Huntsman Cancer Institute, she survived.
It's been six years.
"It was pretty grueling," Byrne, an obstetrician at University Hospital, said, adding that she's since met a number of survivors and feels "lucky" she's among them.
But along the way, she learned something about herself and found hope in traversing various labyrinths — which give a person a path to follow, she said, rather than making them look for one and get lost in what would be called a maze.
Byrne walked through her first labyrinth at a friend's church and had what she said was a "fabulous, peaceful experience." She felt other patients and caregivers who frequent Huntsman facilities as she did and does, would benefit from having their own labyrinth on site.
It's an ancient practice, she said, often tied to spirituality or meditation, as there are no dead ends in a labyrinth, and the same path taken into the center is used to get out.
"When you concentrate on the path, you can put everything else out of your mind," Byrne said. "It's very calming to focus on one thing. You can think about whatever you want."
The labyrinth, which was specifically designed and applied with stencils and stain-soaked sponges, was completed a week ago and occupies only a portion of the Outdoor Terrace and Miche Healing Garden at the popular cancer hospital. It is part of some renovations — enhancements really — done to the space to make it more of a cathartic experience.
Another feature of the garden, intended to promote peace among patients, is a three-tiered copper and stainless steel sculpture that is powered by the wind and constructed by noted local craftsman Lyman Whitaker.
"I feel it is a real appropriate place for them to be," the artist said of his installation, which was completed Wednesday. He said a similar (but smaller) sculpture sits on the grave of his sister, who died of breast cancer decades ago.
The double- and single-helix design, he said, is reminiscent of human DNA and RNA and are specific to the location.
The original inspiration for his work — which can be found around the world — is the wind, he said, "an invisible medium."
"In this fast-paced world, everything is designed to amp you up and get you going from one thing to the next," Whitaker said. "These are designed to slow you down and give you time to relax."
Byrne said the 16-foot-tall sculpture at the northeast corner of the garden and the labyrinth in the southeast add a calmness to the terrace, which is used by cancer patients and their families and friends year-round.Comment on this story
"I hope they see this as something that can be peaceful and healing," she said. Byrne is a member of a committee that helped to transform the garden over the past two years. The committee hopes to also add a pergola, though pricey, to the still-blooming garden.
"Cancer is really stressful, even for the people who are taking care of patients," Byrne said. "I hope they see we are trying to do something good for them."
And while she's a survivor, she said, "once a patient, always a patient when you have cancer." Byrne considers each day a healing step in her journey and because of the life-changing course she's been on, she likes to take them meditatively, like in the labyrinth.