HOUSTON - Cancer patients spend long hours alone in a room.

"I need to get chemo, and it takes usually seven or eight hours," said Rick Shojaei.

So, researchers are studying whether views of nature impact a patient's healing. Using a traditional room, a virtual reality room, and one with a view of a luscious outdoor garden, they are measuring pain, blood pressure and saliva cortisol, which indicates stress.

"We have so many patients, especially first-time, coming in here not knowing what to expect, so anxious, so tense. You can see the fear in their face," said Ashley Verzwyvelt, a registered nurse at Houston Methodist, "and then, when you give them such a spectacular view, such a natural view, it instantly relaxes them."

The project is the brainchild of Verzwyvelt and colleague Renee Stubbins, a senior oncology dietitian at Houston Methodist, who secured funding to build the garden on a previously empty rooftop outside the chemo rooms.

"As a dietitian, I do believe we have this innate connection to nature," Stubbins said. "Our food comes from nature. We are part of nature."

The virtual reality goggles allow patients to interact with nature scenes filled with animals in the wild. Meanwhile, in the room with no view, or VR...

"In a room like this, you feel pretty isolated, but in a room-like garden, that you got view to look out, it is a big difference," Shojaei explained.

The study, which will include 36 cancer patients, is ongoing and was funded by a nonprofit conservation group, studying how factors in nature lead to better health.

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