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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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