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Life Beyond Cancer Retreat

Sunday, November 21, 2010

©Survivorship Media Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

I just returned from four amazing days at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat.
Held at Lakeway Resort in Austin, Texas, 130 women with all types of cancer, as well as oncologists, nurse practitioners, social workers and world class speakers (many of whom are cancer survivors) met to recover, restore and reenergize.

One of the definitions of “retreat” is “a place of refuge.” To that I would add: A retreat is also the people who share the refuge with you. Together you “re treat” one another again and again, nourishing your spirits and inspiring your souls. I don’t know of another environment where total strangers become instant sisters who understand and mirror one another’s deepest hopes and fears before they’ve even said “hello.” <PREVIEWEND>

Women with all types and stages of cancer came to this retreat from around the country and one, as she put it, was beyond her “expiration date.” There were women, who thought they were the only ones in the world with cancers no one could pronounce, who met other women with their exact cancer. We shared our pain, our hopes, even our sadness that some of us may not be here this time, next year, but there was no pity; no loss for words. Each of us came from the same place of unspoken understanding.

We danced; we cried. We cried a lot, but there was more laughter in these four days than many people experience in years. How do I explain cancer humor? Perhaps by giving you a quote from cancer superheroine Heidi Adams, founder of Planet Cancer and Senior Director of Grass Roots Engagement for LIVESTRONG who asked, “Is it OK to be buried in blue jeans?”

Each time we came together, whether at meals or to listen to speakers, we met new women and shared our stories. After dark, some of us gathered around an outdoor fireplace in our pajamas, made smores, laughed “samore” and talked with oncologists who, at that moment, were knowledgeable friends with answers. At the end of four days, our collective stories were as healing as any surgery, chemo or radiation. Each of us left with tears of joy and thanksgiving for having met others who shared “our same aquarium,” and who empowered us and gave us hope.

Started by US Oncology, Inc., the largest community-based cancer care and research network in the nation, the Life Beyond Cancer Foundation’s primary purpose is to financially assist cancer patients with many of their everyday living expenses. In addition, US Oncology, along with other caring companies, underwrites most of the cost of the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat, making it affordable for all of us who want to come. I think I speak for everyone at this year’s retreat when I tell Dr. Lloyd Everson, Vice-Chairman and Board Member of US Oncology, that appointing Ann Wolford, as Executive Director of Living Beyond Cancer may be one of the best decisions US Oncology will ever make. Ann, and her planning committee, created an event none of us wanted to leave. Even after we’d checked out of our rooms, we sat on sofas and chairs, camped out on the lobby floor, not ready to say goodbye.

If you’re female and have/had cancer, whether you’re Stage 1 or Stage 4, mark your calendars for next November and go to next year’s Retreat. If the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat doesn’t open a door in your heart that helps you embrace life, I’m not sure anything will.



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Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 22-Nov-2010 02:07 PM
Brenda,
Welcome home! It sounds like you attended a marvelous retreat. The experience you describe exemplifies what this breast cancer sisterhood is all about, a special camaraderie indeed. Hope you share more about it. Also, I just saw your top ten breast cancer blog list and I am honored to be on it. Thank you so much. A special thanks for mentioning my mother in the description because my breast cancer journey began with hers and I do strive to cross generational lines. Thanks again, Brenda!!
Anonymous commented on 22-Nov-2010 03:57 PM
Nancy,
There were a few people missing from this event, and one of them was you. Now that you know about it, keep a mid November 2011 window open. You should be strong and fit by then, and I would love to meet you!

I love your writing, your perspective and your wisdom and hope the Top 10 list helps more women find you.

Have a great Thanksgiving,
Brenda
Anonymous commented on 22-Nov-2010 09:23 PM
When and where? That sounds like a cool place to unwind and speak to ladies who have been where I've been.
Anonymous commented on 22-Nov-2010 09:51 PM
It sounds super- where can I get more info on this? I'd love to attend!
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 12:08 AM
Hi Sara & Lisa, I'm answering both of you at the same time since your questions are so similar. I don't know a date, as of yet, but I would imagine it would be mid November, 2011. During the next few months, I will continue to write about the conference and all of the amazing speakers who were there. It's too much to process in one blog post. If you're not a subscriber to my Newsletter, you might want to fill in the box on this page so you can received my new posts. Also you can go to Life Beyond Cancer's website for a written outline of last week's, 2010 Retreat, as well as look at photos from 2009 and 2008's. http://lifebeyondcancer.org/ It's a life changing event, and I hope you both can come next year. XOXOXO, Brenda
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 06:36 AM
My sweet friend, thank you for sharing your experience.
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 06:41 AM
Brenda, I will simply say that I am grateful to have read your post. It encourages, and inspires me as usual. I am losing my comments as I write them. A bit of 'funny' business going on here tonight my friend :) xoxo
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 05:00 PM
Hello Brenda,

Would you be so kind enough to give me a little info. regarding the retreat
next November...who to contact to get me info., etc.

Many thanks,

Betty
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 05:02 PM
Hi Betty,
I've emailed you a link to Life Beyond Breast Cancer. In addition, I will be sharing more of what I learned there throughout the coming months. Do hope you can come next year. It's a life changing experience.
Best,
Brenda
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 05:12 PM
Hi Brenda,
Thank you for sharing your blog. I would like to feature excerpts of your
post about the retreat with my readership, but would also ask your help in
identifying women who have survived female reproductive cancers. I want to
invite them to share their stories.

In addition to having a blog for breast cancer (www.noboobsaboutit. com)
and one for breast and female cancers(www.onyourcancerjourney.com for
Chinese speakers) I will soon launch a bilingual blog in English and
Japanese that provides support not only for breast cancer survivors but
for survivors of female reproductive cancers.

If you know of women who might be willing to share their stories, would
you be willing to pass along my email address: jean@noboobsaboutit.com.
Their stories will appear in English, Chinese and Japanese. There is a
great need for information in Chinese and Japanese speaking countries,
where the incidence of female reproductive cancers is higher than in the
US.

Again, Thanks you for sharing your blog!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Best,
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 05:16 PM
Thank you for these. Each one is so true and inspiring. Thank you.
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 05:21 PM
Jean,
I've posted your comments on my blog in hopes other women will see it and respond to you. I'll also contact Life Beyond Cancer and see if they can be any assistance. Feel free to post excerpts from, and credit my blog.
Best,
Brenda
Anonymous commented on 23-Nov-2010 05:37 PM
Hi Brenda,

Just a quick note to tell what a pleasure it was to meet you at the LBC Retreat. And, after taking a close look at your website, let me thank you for your dedication, inspiration, humor and passion. Clearly you are living a life of healthy uncertainty, providing a wonderful service and making a difference. If I can help advance your mission, just let me know.

Be Well,

Michael

Michael H. Samuelson

PS. Attached is a copy of the closing poem I recited at the event. Over the past ten years, it appears to resonated with a considerable number of survivors and thrivors..

PS. Attached is a copy of the closing poem I recited at the event. Over the past ten years, it appears to resonated with a considerable number of survivors and thrivors..


Close the Door When You Leave
an open notice to cancer
Michael Hayes Samuelson
I never asked you to visit … at least I don’t believe I did
Maybe…I don’t know
It’s so confusing
At any rate, you’re a rude guest
You take my energy, rob my sleep, and with a stick
You swirl and distort my dreams
All right; You are here --- for now
But understand
There are two places that are forever off limits
You may not tread on my spirit
You may not occupy my soul
I have heard of your visits to others
I know the damage you leave in your path
The wanton disregard for innocence, value, and what some would call fairness
Also, I hear that laughter confuses you; that good foods make you feel bad, and
That nothing causes you more distress than an autumn sunset, the forever blue of a summer sky,
Or the unconditional radiance of a child’s smile
Listen and understand
You might pilfer my closets, empty all the drawers, and trash my house
But there are two places forever off limits
You may not tread on my spirit
You may not occupy my soul
Anonymous commented on 24-Nov-2010 04:17 PM
Brenda, I would love to meet you as well! The retreat sounds amazing, but it's difficult to plan too far ahead right now. I just want to thank you again for making me feel so welcome in this sisterhood that none of us wanted to belong to! Since we do belong, I'm thankful it feels so real and comforting. Thanks again for putting my blog on your list. Hope you have a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving!
Anonymous commented on 26-Nov-2010 06:13 PM
Brenda, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
I read your blog and Amy's too! All I can say is that you both fuel my passion to live and do what I do because you are addressing the aspects of life that really matter!
Can I go to this retreat next year??? Is it for both survivors and patients (those who are still battling IT?)
Linda told me she will see you this weekend and I am jealous!! Please send me copies of the pictures you took at the summit? Thanks.
I have to go see my mom in Dec, she is not doing too well.
Keep up the wonderful work.
Love & Blessings, Philippa
Anonymous commented on 26-Nov-2010 06:18 PM
Philippa,
Linda and I had a great lunch. Sorry you weren't with us. I gave her some things for you to think about regarding your book without words for the women of Rwanda.

Yes, you must come next year to the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat. It's for any woman who has or had cancer. It was simply amazing! Life changing for many of the women there. You would add so much to this retreat.

I'm sorry to hear about your mom. I know how hard it is when our parents become ill and we must then become their caregivers. Stay safe on your trip.

Love,
Brenda
Anonymous commented on 26-Nov-2010 06:36 PM
Hi Brenda,

...feel like I know you already thru your blogs.

Just for your information, I just completed my treatment and the doctor officially
mentioned the words "you're on remission". Three-month check up is scheduled
early next year.

I am still a little confused on whether I am eating the right kind of food and/or
what I have to do to make sure that this dreaded disease doesn't come back
and ravage my body.

I took the infusion/chemo for a year even though I was just Stage l. However,
the oncologist recommended the Herceptin since mine was the aggressive
type.

Fill me in for more info.

Oh, thanks for all the help...enjoying my email from you on a regular basis.

Have a happy thanksgiving.

Betty
Anonymous commented on 26-Nov-2010 06:37 PM
Betty,
Hooray, you're done with treatment!! That's a huge step because your body can begin to recover and heal. Drink tons of water, eat great food and exercise. Those are the top 3 things you can do to lessen your risk of recurrence.

If you haven't read it, you might consider getting a copy of the Anti Cancer, A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber. His thoughts about a plant based diet (or at least light on red meat, white foods like bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, as well as alcohol), exercise and the mind body connection seem to be in line with many of the top thought leaders about reducing risk of recurrence. The speakers at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat I went to are all in agreement.

I know you're thrilled to be out of treatment and a little apprehensive about the future. Everyone who's had cancer experiences worry to some extent. We walk a fine line between managing that fear and living our lives.

I loved hearing from you! Keep me posted on how you're doing!!

Best,
Brenda
Anonymous commented on 26-Nov-2010 06:39 PM
Dear Brenda,

First I would like to tell you how honored I was to have been a part of your retreat this year. It touched home and my heart on so many different levels. Jaime Fox has been a friend of mine for the past 11 years and she has been battling cancer for as long as I can remember. breast cancer, esophageal cancer and now a new form. She is currently in London having a treatment that she called “having her blood boiled” it’s experimental and takes a lot out of her. I love her very dearly and I wish she would let me do more to help although I really and honestly don’t know what I can do other than answer the very sparse and random phone calls. While I was planning the menus for this weekend it really made me feel that I was kind of in a way helping her. I know I didn’t really do much but it meant a lot to me and I was honored to be a part of it. If there is anything at all that I can do in the future anything at all please do not hesitate to ask. I am no dietician or nutritionist, but I am a humbled chef that has been forced to rethink things. Through this past week trying to prepare myself and the menus for your retreat I have learned a tremendous amount of knowledge. At the same time I am also conflicted as I found articles stating the benefits of consuming certain foods, I also came across articles that stated the opposite. I do not know what is right or wrong I can only go off of what I read and learn taking my knowledge as a chef and applying it to the best of my ability. I also realized that all have special diets either from their doctors or their own special circumstances dictating what they should and shouldn’t eat. Feel free to give out my email address to any that might have even the smallest question on food or cooking. Perhaps maybe I can offer some advice on how to create meals with in their specific diets that they have chosen or been instructed to follow. Again it was an honor to have had all of you at my table.

Sincerely,

Henry Christian
Anonymous commented on 29-Nov-2010 03:32 PM
Dear Michael,
Thank you for your note and for taking a look at our website. More importantly, thank you for speaking to us at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat. You, and the way you life your life, are truly the inspiring one. Thank you for reintroducing me to Joseph Campbell. I'd forgotten how much I loved his writing and the videos he did with Bill Moyers. I hope our paths cross, again.
Best,
Brenda Coffee
Anonymous commented on 29-Nov-2010 08:01 PM
Hi Henry, I appreciate your letter & I know I speak for everyone at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat when I tell you how much we appreciated your food. It was fabulous; spot on for those who are looking to reduce our risk of cancer recurrence as well as those who want to stay healthy. It was obvious someone had done their homework about cancer and diet. So rare, Henry. I can't tell you how many "health" events I attend where the food is laden with cream sauce and there's no fruit or vegetarian alternatives. You did your friend, Jamie, proud with all of your work. Thank you, Brenda

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