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Day 1: We Arrive

At the train station the night before we had gathered. Friendly, inquisitive faces scanning the crowd as one after another we dragged, pushed or hoisted our luggage onto the baggage check scale to be weighed before being whisked onto carts that would feed them to the belly of the train.

“Are you with the Lotus Survival Foundation?” was the prevailing greeting passed along among the women, in tones hopeful, welcoming, curious.

All were here as guests of The Lotus Survival Foundation, a non-profit organization that was founded to provide education and access to resources meant to assist low-income, uninsured women who have been affected by, or are concerned about Breast Cancer. They were all attending for free at the heart of a groundbreaking event: the five-day inaugural healing “Mind, Body and Soul Retreat” in St. Petersburg, Florida, through funds provided by GSA International Incentives, corporate fundraising as well as individual fundraising.

The LSF was founded to provide support through education, mentor programs and group healing retreats to women suffering with breast cancer by Claudia Tovar de Aguirre a breast cancer survivor whose vision was to give back to others suffering with the disease through healing retreats whose focus would be the mind, body and soul, believing that all three elements are crucial to holistic health and well-being.

The LSF’s website describes its healing retreats as being designed and conducted by breast cancer survivors “for women surviving with, or after breast cancer. During the retreats, in which women in “all stages are welcome to attend - from the newly diagnosed to women many years in remission”, attendees focus on activities that replenish the mind, body and soul. They learn new strategies and helpful tips that will assist them in coping with everyday stress associated with managing their personal and professional lives. Through an open exchange of personal experiences and informative workshops, guests learn techniques to calm the soul and build an inner strength that will resonate within themselves and for others around them.”

There were 30 of us heading for Tampa, FL from Raleigh, NC. At least, that was the departure point for most of us from Raleigh and a few from Tarboro, Durham, and Winston-Salem. When the Amtrak train deposited us in Tampa, a shuttle bus would take us to our final destination: The Beach House Suites by Don Cesar in St. Petersburg. Later on, we would be joined by others who had traveled from other far-flung places like Montana, Colorado, the Midwest, and even Ecuador and Spain.

The train rumbled out of the station at 9:13 p.m., snaking its way through the darkness, the low clattering of its wheels a steady undercurrent of its passage from one depot to the next, where other riders from other towns climbed aboard and claimed their seats among us. In between were long, monotonous stretches of fields, industrial yards, nameless bergs, and, as our journey drew us ever deeper south, into South Carolina, then Georgia, ancient trees draped with Spanish moss, a pale, ghostly veil in the moonlight. At times, peering out the window at the inky night sky, it almost seemed as if we were chasing the yellow, crescent-shaped moon, as it by turns hung back and disappeared behind a water tower, then as quickly raced ahead of us again like a nocturnal playmate, coaxing us into a game of celestial tag to pass the time as on we rode until dawn brought a bright, rosy sunrise. With it came blessed warmth to some who had spent a sleepless night shivering beneath borrowed blankets beneath unrelenting air conditioning vents that pumped chilly air overhead.

During the journey, a few of the guests shared their stories and their expectations for the retreat: “… good camaraderie within the group…”, “fun and relaxation”; “[hopes to ] teach a class at an LSF retreat someday. Wants to know from other attendees what medical strides they would like to see made from cancer research. Also is eager to learn from their cancer experiences.”

Perhaps the guest in the most delicate of conditions is one young woman (Mae S.) whose port that was put in during her breast cancer surgery in 2008 had broken off, gone through her heart and entered her lungs. Then, in 2009, “I started having problems in my chest. The chest pain was really bad. I couldn’t lie down. So I went to the emergency room. Later I followed-up with my doctor. She told me I had nodules on my left lung. So I had a power flush put in in November 2010. I had chemo. They later told me I had stage 4 breast cancer in the right breast. Then I found out I had cancer on the brain. I had 2 wks of radiation that ended just last Monday.”

When asked of her expectations for the retreat, she replied, “I’m excited to be here. I’m ready to learn, mostly about myself and other cancer survivors and how they handle going through their cancer, how they cope with everything. I know it had to be by the Grace of God for everybody, because without Him, they ain’t never going to make it.”

One guest who leads a Latina breast cancer support group hoped “…to connect with other survivors and learn about their survivorship as Latinas, because … several have died from her group and others’ have metastasized. [Also…]In bringing her group she’s hoping she can help them learn how to deal with their cancer.

Another stated her hope of finding someone here with her rare type of breast cancer, which was inflammatory breast cancer. She further hopes “to learn a lot about how to live with the side effects, in particular about the chemicals going into your body.”

Another very friendly, enthusiastic, and thankful guest told of how she “wants to see how others cope with their radiation and chemo, wants to hear about 15- and 20-year survivors’ stories. They give me hope.”

One woman is a two-time cancer survivor. The first was 26 years ago (at age 18): a rare uterine-form of cancer called a hydatidiform mole; the other was breast cancer. She just finished treatments in Nov. 2010. It was discovered in March 2010. She’s had chemo, a double mastectomy, lymph node removal, and radiation. She says she’s “6 months in remission” because there is always a lingering anxiety as to whether any cancer still remains somewhere, undetected.

As for her expectations for the retreat? She doesn’t have any. “I’ve learned it’s more important to be present in the moment and let the experience evolve, just the way it’s perfectly supposed to be.”

A Latina breast cancer sufferer responded with this when asked about her expectations for the retreat. “I think the information on how to stay healthy long-term, wants to learn more about the exercises and relaxation techniques to help with the lasting effects of the surgery. Also the therapy of relating to other survivors so they can learn and share with each other from their experiences. Learning about how people overvcame the effects of their treatment and how their families coped with everything has helped her. She has 2 daughters who are young women and she wants to be up on everything and aware so she can involve and instruct them to stay healthy.”

Another guest had this to say about her expectations. “I hope to learn more about using my mind and not being so afraid. I know it’s a hard attack when the doctor tells you that but I hope to be able to conquer my fear so that it doesn’t conquer me. Since I’ve been going through my cancer, I’ve been less fearful of it and have developed a closer relationship with God. That has helped me overcome my fear of my cancer better than when my doctor first told me about it.”

One guest offered that she was “… excited about the laughing yoga. Laughter is one of the things I most enjoy in life, so I’m excited about using something I already enjoy to improve my overall health.”

“To guide breast cancer survivors to get the medical treatment they need, to overcome the language barrier so they can also receive the information they need to live positively, eat healthily, and receive the proper medical treatment and medications they need,” is what yet another cancer survivor hoped to gain.

When at last we arrived at the Tampa station, we gathered our stowed luggage and were soon off again, this time in bright Florida sunlight, by the the Don Cesar Hotel & Resort shuttle bus for a 40-minute ride to our condos. At first sight of the pink castle by the sea that is the The Don Cesar Hotel & Resort’s main facility, a chorus of oohs and aahhs of delight arose among the passengers, who dragged out their cameras to quickly capture the magnificent structure in all its glory for posterity. Although our lodgings would have full access to its premises and all its luxurious amenities, we would be staying two blocks away in The Beach House Suites by Don Cesar, a similarly pink tower of spacious condominiums, each with sweeping side views of the Gulf Coast and beach beyond the lushly landscaped pool and cabana bar that our wide, private balconies overlooked.

An impromptu pizza party accompanied the delivery of our room keys and we headed off, each one to his or her own suite, excited yet weary, for a few hours of restful relaxation before the welcome reception at poolside, scheduled to begin at 7:00.

A buffet of savory hors d’oeuvres and beverages greeted us beneath the straw canopy of the poolside cabana, from which we served ourselves and rejoined our fellow guests at tables tucked amidst the tropical hibiscuses and winding walkways of our poolside paradise. We all agreed the setting was as ideal as it was idyllic, combining the calming balm of its peaceful beauty with the privacy many yearned for, as a comforting cocoon of companionable friendship settled in among our contingent like a soft, weightless cloak, and we reveled in its soothing effects in hushed voices choked with thankfulness before a pink and amber sunset viewed with awe, as day one of our joyful journey came to a close.

Day 2: Rested, Refreshed, and Renewed

A playful posse of porpoises (well, ok, so they were dolphins!) rewarded the participants in the first of the day’s activities, a session of Laughing Yoga led by Audrey Giron. To some who witnessed the spectacle of leaping, cavorting sea creatures, it was as if they had gathered deliberately to greet us in an appropriately cheerful prelude to the carefree fun of the exercise about to begin, for as soon as all had assembled on the beach and the class was about to start, they vanished beneath the surface of the waves, leaving their admirers thrilled and inspired by their athletic show of carefree spirit. That same quality of spirit infused the Laughing Yoga-ites as they mimicked various movements and engaged in light-hearted energy-producing antics with each other, all while laughing uproariously, as instructed and inspired by Ms. Giron.

Ms. Giron recalls that she had been praying for direction from God and to Father Pia (the famous Italian saint) for direction to something that would help others more. “One day the word “risa” (which is ‘laugh’ in Spanish, my native language) came to mind. So I looked up ‘laughter’ on the internet and found reference to “Laughter Yoga” and that became an epiphany for me. I realized I was being led to pursue, practice and teach laughter yoga to others.” Her advice to breast cancer sufferers? “You must have faith, because God is almighty. God can do everything. When you practice faith, pray consciously and make contact with the Divine (whoever that being is for you), you feel an aura of protection and energy that something is helping you. With the strength from that inner energy, you can make things happen. And you will find answers in your life.”

Indeed, there was plenty of energy charging the atmosphere at the beach that morning, as the healthful, mood-infusing benefits of laughter were made joyfully clear by the sincerely spirited smiles sported by all by the end of the activity. Relaxed, refreshed and renewed, we returned to the hotel prepared to take on the world, after an hour spent showering and changing for the day’s speakers’ programs, preceded by a continental breakfast buffet.

The first of the speakers was Life Coach Susan Mayer-McHugh, whose career focuses on helping to guide breast cancer victims through the maze of difficult decisions they must face to enable them to best choose the right one for themselves. Her career developed from knowing what cancer patients go through from personal experience and how overwhelming it is, especially early on, when they’re first diagnosed. Having that empathy for their need for direction impels her to advise them not to do one thing or the other, but rather to guide them through the process of making the decision that is right for them. To be an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to hold.

Ms. Mayer-McHugh began her session on coping with our emotions and turning difficult feelings into a positive attitude with an invitation to introduce ourselves and to share our expectations of her class with each other. There was many a moist eye around the room, as by turns we confessed our fears, our hopes, and what we hoped to gain from each others’ perspectives and from the sharing of our own. One woman, between tears, sobbed, “I just want to say that today is the 1st day I’ve allowed myself to cry and now the floodgates are open.” Later, she was serenaded with the birthday song (followed two other versions of it, in Spanish, by the Latinas among us), after learning today was her birthday.

A roundtable discussion followed, in which each group’s 6-8 participants were asked, “If you were to share one piece of advice with someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer, what would it be?” Responses ranged from “You must rely upon a Higher Power as well as other people” to “Know that whatever stage of your diagnosis you’re going through, you have wisdom to offer to someone who’s just been diagnosed.” Others included: “Trust your body and be persistent. Be your own advocate with [doctors] and others in the medical field.” “Put God first. Have a positive attitude. Don’t be around negative people.” And one woman’s motto, heartily adopted by all: ““Cancer may have me but I do not have cancer”.

Ms. Mayer-McHugh advises breast cancer patients to seek proper, professional guidance, especially when they’re first diagnosed, to get direction and to keep from becoming overwhelmed by all the choices and decisions they will face.

Next up was Areanna Breedlove, CPA, who dispensed common myths and misconceptions about bankruptcy, Medicare and Medicaid handling of cancer-related claims, living wills, and other financial matters to the great relief of those of us who are struggling with such issues, with practical advice valued by all. Ms. Breedlove has twice undergone chemo treatment for autoimmune disorders and knows that even during those treatments when one’s energy is at its lowest, the bureaucracies tend to come down the hardest on those least able to take them on.

The success of this retreat, Ms. Breedlove believes, is living testimony to Mother Theresa’s quote “You cannot do great things in this life, only small things with great love.” “A lot of people did small things with great love to help make this thing happen, and it’s all come together to produce tremendous results because of that. I believe this has been a real healing experience for many (if not the majority of) of the women here.”

Following a break over a generous lunch buffet was a “make-over” demonstration by talented makeup artist Lori Ovitz, Board of Trusteees, Un. Of Chicago and volunteer teacher of workshops nationwide and author of “Facing the Mirror with Cancer: A Guide to Using Makeup to Make a Difference”. Her inspiration for her work was the first time she taught a cancer patient how to overcome the effects of chemotherapy after 20 years spent as a freelance makeup artist for celebrities in Chicago. It forever changed her career.

Ms. Ovitz believes, “You can go through cancer treatment and still feel amazing about the way you look.” With all eyes glued to her deft ministrations, she created “faux” eyebrows, eyelashes and even hair. We watched, mildly bemused, as her “model”, one of the guests, was transformed from one who was clearly blessed with a fine bone structure but lacking eyebrows due to chemotherapy and otherwise suffering from the effects of cancer treatments on the skin, into a ravishing beauty, courtesy of her artful expertise, handed down to us all in the form of a comprehensive book she had published on the subject, complete with full-color photos and tips, along with gifts for each of us in the form of a liquid makeup sample and quality makeup brush. Whoops of approval rang out as the model took to the center of the tables in a mock runway walk worthy of a Milan fashion house, along with cheers and plenty of questions for Ms. Ovitz, who gamely answered them all and proceeded to do private individual make-overs for others, as the rest of the crowd took to their rooms for a couple of hours of rest before dinner.

A sumptuous dinner buffet of salmon, chicken, mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette, rolls and an assortment of decadent desserts rounded out the day’s events at the same poolside venue we’d so enjoyed last night. Afterward, some took pictures or walked along the ocean as the sun began to set while others lingered at their tables, chatting, until their rooms beckoned them return for a good night’s sleep.

Our first day of group interaction had ended. Our assorted repressed emotions had found expression and, with it, blessed release as Day Two of our journey came to a close.

Day 3: Reclaim, Replenish, Recharge

There were no dolphins to greet us this day, as we assembled at water’s edge to begin the morning’s Laughing Yoga workout. Replacing them was another visitor, who would arrive about midway through a vigorous session of laughter, energy and merriment that grew steadily from a different routine added to the program this morning. It was an introduction to the [Indian-style]­­­­­­ form of yoga, imparting to each of us the peacefulness, balance and gracefulness that are the hallmarks of the classic Indian form of yoga.

Ah, but before too long, our restful selves were given over to laughing with abandonment, as the Laughing Yoga segment of our session began. Which is when our new friendly visitor arrived: a beach patrolman, dropping by to see what all the madness and mayhem of our merry mob of maidens (and a couple of men) was all about. He as quickly turned and left, smiling and shaking his head as he went. Twenty minutes later, our yoga session over, we broke to freshen up before breakfast outside our meeting room, where a whole new slate of speakers awaited to enlighten a reinvigorated audience eager to learn.

Our appetites slated, we listened as Amber Alsobrooks, Recreational Therapist and Community Outreach Coordinator, gave a presentation on the impact of stress on the body and emotions, and techniques to reduce the impact of those stressors. Says Ms. Alsobrooks, “The treatments that are intended to kill cancer cells can often compromise all the other parts of what makes us who we are. This had become painfully evident to me as I watched a good friend and running partner go through treatment for ovarian cancer. So when I saw a presentation about Get REAL & HEEL at a recreation therapy conference, I saw it as a program for cancer survivors that addressed needs from a more holistic perspective.”

Next, Jean Owen, Exercise Physiologist, explained the importance of exercise, the components of an effective exercise regimen, and how exercise can help those struggling with breast cancer. One benefit, as Ms. Owen explains, is that “Exercise can help you recover and heal from cancer and its treatments. During cancer treatments, you may have given over control of your body to physicians and other medical professionals, but exercise gives you a way to regain control over your own body, which has inherent mental and physical benefits besides.”

And, finally, D. J. Amatuli, Personal Trainer, shed some light on the secrets of ensuring a successful exercise program (including the importance of starting out slowly to avoid burnout from the outset; consistency; and listening to one’s body to establish and respect its limits.) The many cancer scares in D.J.’s family, all of which were all easily fixed with surgery, fueled his desire to learn about the personal toll that cancer takes on women and what treatments do to them, to enable him to be of better service to them by knowing more about what they go through.

All three are members of UNC-CH’s Get REAL and Heel program, a program that cancer survivors start within six mos. of finishing their treatment that continues for a period of twenty weeks. The program requires an hour of exercise followed by recreational therapy for half an hour, three times per week.

Another of this morning’s speakers, Xiomara Boyce, Clinical Patient Navigator and Outreach Specialist with Duke University and leader of a support group for Latina breast cancer patients, related her tragic history and the resulting motivation for her patient advocacy role to a spellbound crowd that hung on her every word with rapt attention and admiration.

After losing her father in a fatal car accident and her unborn child to an amniocentesis test, Ms. Boyce shared with us the loss that would forever alter her life and impel her to pursue a path of patient advocacy. A dear Japanese friend was studying with her in France when she and some classmates took a trip to England. On their way back, they learned that their Japanese friend had gone to the hospital and died possibly because she did not speak the language. The seed of her life’s purpose was planted, one that would take root and sprout when she, herself, suffered mistreatment by a surgeon not long thereafter.

The surgeon had administered an anesthetic prior to stitching the area around an inflamed infection in her breast. He left for a long time to treat another patient, then returned to Ms. Boyce to suture her wound, even though the anesthetic had begun to wear off. He casually dismissed her protestations with a slap of her upraised hand and went right on stitching. All the while, Ms. Boyce silently wondered how many non-English speaking women this doctor had mistreated. When she later confronted him with her medical training and promised to warn other Latina women to avoid his practice, her new role of patient advocator for Latinas was born.

As if she hadn’t encountered tragedy enough in her life, Ms. Boyce experienced a brush with death following her mastectomy that stemmed from washing her hair too soon. The dye from the chemical ran into her surgery scars. The doctors did not expect her to live from the incident and was subsequently bedridden for 5 months. But nutritionally she was able to bring her body back to life. In fact, she refused chemo and radiation following her mastectomy, choosing instead to treat it nutritionally on her own with help from her doctors.

Hers was a fascinating story of transforming grief into good, and one that still managed to impart Ms. Boyce’s expertise on the effects of radiation, chemotherapy and medications on one’s body during and after treatment for cancer.

Before breaking for lunch, Ms. Susan Mayer-McHugh led an in-depth (and, at times, refreshingly randy!) discussion about the bodily changes brought on by cancer treatments, including dry mouth, changes in one’s ability to taste and smell, pain, nausea, extreme fatigue, sexual side-effects, swelling and other issues faced by cancer sufferers. Many expressed their relief at having such a candid exchange with women who have experienced similar problems, rather than suffer in silence around others who are clueless about such intimate details and with whom they would be uncomfortable confiding the sort of subjects they discussed among themselves with honesty, sensitivity, and not a little humor, today.

A delicious buffet lunch rekindled our energy, as did a rousing game of “In the Bedroom”, a game in which each of the attendees were handed a card containing an eloquent motivational saying. One by one, we read the quote on our card, followed by the phrase, “… in the bedroom”. Boisterous laughter filled the room as, one by one, the cards were read, like one woman’s, which boasted, “Everything I touch becomes a success …. In the bedroom”, and “All I do is satisfying… in the bedroom”, and one man’s card, which read, “I am flexible and flowing … in the bedroom”!

That was a tough act to follow, but our next speaker, Tania Fabela, rose capably to the challenge with an arsenal of interesting and helpful insights into ways to improve health and lessen the negative effects of cancer treatments through proper nutrition by applying variety to one’s menu to maintain a healthy appetite; the basic essentials to strive for when planning a diet (with proper portions, complete and balanced nutrition, and adequate intake for one’s present condition and age.) Ms. Fabela added that a good diet should also be harmless by maintaining healthfulness and good hygiene. A glimpse into the nutrients found in various foods was included, as well, along with tips for conquering problems resulting from cancer treatments, like loss of appetite, constipation, smell and taste changes, and dry mouth.

The motivation for Ms. Fabela’s work as a Nutritionist stemmed from an earlier desire to be a doctor. Not wanting to forfeit being a mother, too, however, prompted her to choose instead to pursue work involving nutrition so she could be involved with something health-related that would benefit people and earned her MS in Nutrition and Community Nutrition from Univ. Of Barcelona.

Ms. Fabela advises breast cancer patients to eat healthy foods and to be aware of the correct portion sizes.

A change of venue awaited us that evening, as we climbed into the hotel shuttle or walked to Gigi’s Italian Restaurant down the street, where we enjoyed a dinner of pizza and antipasto salad with an enthusiastic recalling of the day’s events. And so Day 3 concluded as energetically as it had begun,

but with a deeper understanding of how to reclaim and maintain our bodies and our strength, through knowledge gained and wisdom exchanged through the college we know as camaraderie.

Day 4: Restored, We Revive & Rejoice!

Today’s initial speaker, Ms. Amy Sear, AP, Diplo. OM and owner of Sear-Enity Natural Medicine in FL, introduced us all to Asian secrets of self-healing that included acupuncture, the study and practice of Tai Chi. She explained the fundamentals of self healing, and Tai Chi, and explained the benefits that can be derived from these techniques by cancer patients. As an example, she described a treatment she routinely gives to one of our own who happens to be a patient of Ms. Sear’s, and whose enthusiastic endorsement of the technique supported Ms. Sear’s assertion as to its efficacy, even during the first week after radiation therapy.

A popular figure at Heritage Hospital Cancer Center in Tarboro, NC, Scott Phillips, LCSW, Patient Navigator, recalled that part of his inspiration for working for breast cancer patients was the death of his grandfather from breast cancer, an occurrence that happens in only 1% of all breast cancer cases. As a Patient Navigator, Phillips tells his patients, “No barrier is too great. When it comes to healthcare, particularly for cancer treatments, there is a way around any barrier that comes up. Don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked or derailed because of obstacles [like having no insurance.] That is an obstacle that you can get around.” In that capacity, Phillips serves as a patient advocate/liaison through the often frustrating bureaucracies within the healthcare system that often entangle or discourage cancer patients.

With the rest of the day set aside as free time to explore and relax on our own, we went our separate ways until a special farewell dinner brought us all back together again poolside, with a special beach celebration to follow.

As so often had happened at opportune moments during the course of the retreat, out came the cameras from pockets and purses as one member of a table or another sprang up seeking group pictures at each table while conversations turned to flight schedules, packing and appointments to be kept back home. Mingled with the conviviality of the moment was a tinge of sadness at the prospect of returning to our normal lives after tomorrow. Yet, as difficult as we knew that would be, each of us understood that the bonds we had forged over the past four days would strengthen and sustain us through whatever may lie ahead.

Although typically, dinner would be followed by individuals and groups breaking apart from the rest to go their separate ways, Claudia and Jose bid us stay for a symbolic close to the retreat that was to be by far the most poignant and inspirational highlight of the week.

After first being given lovely pendant necklaces of the lotus flower emblem as keepsakes (and some lucky winners a Laughing Yoga tee shirt by special drawing), we all received a pink balloon, with instructions to write anything negative we want to see disappear from our lives on it in pen. We then met at the water’s edge just as a vibrant rosy sun began to seemingly melt into the horizon. All together, we popped our balloons in illustration of our commitment to dispense of all negativity from this point forward.

We then began a march toward the main Don Cesar Hotel & Resort, an imposing pink ‘castle’-like structure built in the 1920s, two blocks down the beach, carrying our lit tea light candles in honor of one who lost the battle with cancer. As we naturally-fell into groups of similar pace, talking amongst ourselves, someone would spontaneously break into a song that the others would pick up and the group would begin singing in unison, their voices lifted and carried to the others ahead or behind them as they went. As the strains of ‘This Little Light of Mine”, “You Are My Sunshine” and “Stand By Me” trailed behind us, muted by the ebbing tide, we reached the shore that stretched below the The Don Cesar Hotel & Resort and posed for a group picture with first the ocean and then the resort as the backdrop, just as the last tints of daylight faded and darkness enveloped the beach. Having captured the moment in what may be our last group picture of the trip, it was time to call it a day. But not before one last symbolic ritual had been performed on the sands behind the hotel that was our home for the past four days.

As we approached the stretch of beachfront behind our hotel, Claudia called for anyone who was willing to loan their tea light candle to hand it to her so she could make a design in the sand: The Breast Cancer ribbon. Kneeling, she and a few others took each of the candles handed to them and set the tiny, flickering lights in the sand in the shape of a loop. We all stood and gaze down at it in admiration, taking in the symbolism and meaning of the moment. At our feet, the ribbon glowed like a beacon against the black sand, to the whisper of the waves that behind us lapped against the shore. Once again, cameras were drawn out and we knelt down over the ribbon, that flashes of light could illumine our faces as we surrounded it, seeking once again to capture yet another moment, the last of the night and of the week, to keep and to share with each other once we’d become separated by space and time, but not by isolation. Never by isolation. For we knew that the spell of loneliness and of private struggle had been broken by the potent potion we’d come to know as friendship. A friendship forged by unity.


A few of the impressions of the retreat by attendees:

“It was a life-changing experience. I’m still so excited. I just really enjoyed everything. I’ve gained so much from it. Meeting different cultures, hearing different stories, and getting strength from each one. At the beginning when we expressed ourselves and all that we felt it was so powerful, with everyone tearing up and spilling their experiences. But by the end we all felt so comfortable with each other and had such confidence talking to each other. Just to be in a group of women and feel the confidence around them and comfortable with everyone and be able to discuss with them how it felt to finally get my feelings out after twenty-two years.”~ Elizabeth, 22-year breast cancer survivor

“I like that I got to meet other ladies and enjoy the fellowship with others and to hear their stories, which has given me more courage to help others.”

“I thank God for this retreat. Even though I was in pain, I enjoyed myself, with the laughing yoga and conversations with the other survivors. Just listening to their stories is very uplifting. I know that I will never forget them. This deadly disease brought us together. We are sisters, and I love them all. Keep the faith in God.”~ Mae S., the guest whose breast cancer has spread to her brain, quoted earlier.

“Exceeded my expectations. And that rarely happens. I gained interpersonal strength, courage, fortitude, and developed a oneness with other women because we had a shared experience.”

“We were sisters against a common enemy. I especially liked how it was arranged, by Mind, Body and Spirit. I think the most powerful thing I got out of it was being with other women who understood without my having to tell them. And I came away with a greater sense of empowerment and a commitment to give myself credit for what I’ve been through and to be more vigorous in reclaiming my life.”

“What I got out of the retreat was networking. Seeing how this type of approach to healing can be utilized and incorporated with educating during clinical trials. More importantly, strong bonds and relationships were established and the growth developed in the women beyond their pain so that they now are able to move forward and help other women in their communities and are seeking ways to be contributors to the good of others. I believe they will become very strong advocates in their communities for others struggling with breast cancer. ” “I’ve learned that those of us in the healthcare industry need to learn to listen to patients and to not just view the cancer diagnosis but how it affects the individual and their world.”

“I really liked the conferences, and sharing experiences with the others there. It reached my spirit.”

When asked was there anything you learned this week that you had never heard of or known before, and, if so, what? “Acupuncture and Tai Chi and Laugher Yoga".

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