Growing Together

Radiation Oncologist Kate Castle uses her love of gardening to connect with patients


If you were to visit Dr. Kate Castle’s exam room as she helps a patient to understand their treatment options, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear the conversation turn from cancer care, to cauliflower and cucumbers.

Dr. Kate Castle and her daughter, Abby (11) tending to their backyard garden
Dr. Kate Castle and her daughter, Abby, 11, tending to their backyard garden

The Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center radiation oncologist finds that tending a backyard garden is an interest shared by many of her patients, and can help put the patient in a different frame of mind.

“They know that I grow vegetables,” Castle said. “And I know what they’re planting. We have the most interesting conversations.”

In her role at Mary Bird Perkins, Castle, who also serves as medical director overseeing an expansive radiation oncology program, is passionate about providing the best possible cancer care for her patients. She uses the Cancer Center’s advanced radiation technology to reduce tumors while preserving healthy tissues so that patients have their best shot at maintaining a good quality of life. Recruited from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Castle says she found a true commitment to care at Mary Bird Perkins, where patients aren’t a number—they’re real people.

“I personally feel very strongly that I can’t take care of a patient fully without knowing where they’re coming from, and how they’re navigating a challenging time,” Castle said. “The thing I love, and what I spend a long time doing every day in clinic, is just connecting with my patients.”

Often, that starts with a conversation about how much fun it is to get your hands dirty in garden mulch.

“I’m all about healthy eating and I’m constantly talking about things patients can do to improve their diet and that reduces cancer risk,” Castle said. “A lot of that is just eating unprocessed foods. There’s nothing better than your food source being your backyard.”

A bounty of garden-fresh vegetables Castle breaks the ice over tomato varieties and composting, reminding patients that home grown veggies offer high nutritional value and cancer-fighting properties.

Castle also shares how a few minutes spent in the garden can ease stress. She makes a personal habit of stopping by her own raised beds for a few minutes of weeding before transitioning from a busy day at the clinic to her role as wife and mom of three.

Gardening is something that’s brought satisfaction most of her life, she says. 

“My mom was a master gardener,” said Castle, a New Jersey native. “And my husband and I have always had a garden. We’ve moved all over the country and always had a garden, whether it was small or large.”

It’s become even more fun to garden since they’ve had children, Castle says.

The couple’s three kids, eleven-year-old daughter Abby, and sons, Andy, seven, and Jacob, five, enjoy harvesting veggies and helping with weeding and composting.

“They’ll be running around playing, and then walk over and pull a carrot out of the ground and rinse it off and eat it,” Castle said. “It’s just such a joyful thing to watch.”


Allison Guidroz of Fullness Farms, left, and Dr. Kate Castle devise a gardening game plan
Allison Guidroz of Fullness Farms, left, and Dr. Kate Castle devise a gardening game plan

Last year, Castle worked with Fullness Farms organic gardener Allison Guidroz to quadruple the size of her backyard garden. Guidroz and her husband, Grant, are longtime Red Stick Farmers Market vendors, and Allison consults with home gardeners on maximizing their output. Castle says she’s looking forward to a spring and summer bounty of fresh herbs and produce, including lettuces and sugar snap peas, and soon, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and other heat-loving crops.

“Gardening is such a great conversation starter,” Castle says. “It’s a wonderful way to connect with my patients and talk to them about healthy living.”