Friends to honor doctor with garden
By John Johnston
She decided to halt chemotherapy treatments last June and enroll in hospice. Not because she was ready to die, but because she wanted to live again.
"It got to a point where I was feeling so bad from my chemo that it didn't make sense anymore to keep doing it," says Susan Montauk, 61, a family practice doctor from Fairview who was diagnosed with rectal cancer in the fall of 2007.
"I wasn't living."
The married mother of two grown children isn't sure how long she has left. "Considering my weakness," she says, "we're probably talking months."
She says too many people avoid talking about death. Not Montauk. She is, however, a bit embarrassed when it comes to discussing the Susan Louisa Montauk Memorial Garden. It will be built at the McMicken Health Collaborative, at 40 E. McMicken Ave. in Over-the-Rhine, which was completed in November and provides behavioral, medical, dental and supportive services for homeless people.
A concert to raise money for the garden will be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 6 at Montauk's church, St. John's Unitarian Universalist, 320 Resor Ave., Clifton.
Montauk has devoted much of her professional life to working with poor people, including the homeless and those with AIDS.
In the early 1990s, she was one of the few family doctors working with AIDS patients. In 2002, she jumped at the chance to work on the Cincinnati Health Care for the Homeless Mobile Van, which visits shelters throughout the city.
"The thing that makes our program so successful is physicians like Susan who are not afraid to hold, to touch, and to care for (homeless) patients," says Kate Bennett, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Health Network Inc. It operates the mobile van and is a partner in the McMicken Health Collaborative with the city of Cincinnati, the CincySmiles Foundation and Montauk's employer, the University of Cincinnati Department of Family and Community Medicine.
"With Susan, it always was, and still is, the comfort and well-being of her patients that came before anything else," Bennett says.
When attorney Scott Knox, a friend of Montauk's, gave a $3,000 gift to Health Care for the Homeless, team members decided to use it to honor the doctor. Colleagues knew the best way to do that was with a garden.
"Gardens are real important to me," Montauk says, resting at home in an easy chair next to a window where roses and irises are visible in warm weather months. "Gardens are how I relax."
As the idea has evolved and grown, so has the cost, now at $30,000. Landscape architects Human Nature donated their time to design the garden, which will feature a fountain made for Montauk and her husband, Stan Loeb, by Kenton Brett. The garden will be surrounded by a wrought iron fence, but will be accessible to anyone.
About $18,000 is still needed.
A Montauk colleague, Dr. Kathleen Downey, hopes a general contractor and garden centers will step forward to help make the project a reality.
When it's finished, "I want it to be a space where people can feel calm, a place to just take a breath," Montauk says.
By enlisting the help of Hospice of Cincinnati, she's been able to manage her nausea and pain. She receives weekly visits from a nurse. And regular sessions with an art therapist "have really gotten me back into some of the art I used to do. The more you can do that, the more you feel like you're living," she says.
"I want to be living until I die."Additional Facts
If you go
What: Music for Hope, a benefit for the Susan Louisa Montauk Memorial Garden.
When: 3 p.m. Feb. 6.
Where: St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church, 320 Resor Ave., Clifton.
Performing: Muse Cincinnati Women's Choir; Cincinnati Men's Choir; the Chancel Choir of St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church.
Donations: Will be accepted at the concert; or checks can be made payable to the Cincinnati Health Network and sent to Dr. Kathleen Downey, 9002 Daly Road, Cincinnati, 45231.
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