Reflections from BCRC’s Metastatic Retreat

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BCRC was able to host two metastatic retreats last fall thanks to generous sponsors Dr. Debra Patt, Dr. Elizabeth Potter and Dr. Heather King.  Many healthcare professionals from Cancer Rehab Integrative Medicine and many others who volunteered their time to provide massage, acupuncture, yoga, facials and meditation.  Special thank you to Camille Guice, Digital Art Direction Manager at Kendra Scott for providing therapeutic art.  We appreciate client Elaine Jones for sharing such a beautiful memory during a highly stressful time.    

One of the happy days last fall was September 21st, when I attended the BCRC Retreat at Acme Ranch near Marble Falls.  Just getting out of the house and out of the city was a very welcome break from the humdrum of life during cancer treatment.  Even though I could have been making other forays away from home, I hadn’t.  It seemed like I was always getting ready for or recovering from some aspect of treatment.  I just didn’t have the get up and go to get up and go.  The retreat had everything planned and set up for us.  All I had to do was show up, and I did have the energy for that.

I made the drive with a friend who I knew only slightly.  The travel time allowed us to get better acquainted, sharing thoughts that don’t get expressed in “mixed company” (i.e., when there are non-cancer-patients in the group).  It rained cats and dogs, and the feel of being on the open road was uplifting in itself.

The ranch house was huge and beautiful, with lots of open space for both activities and just hanging out.  In addition to the creature comforts, there were snacks and beverages for every taste.  The dreary weather kept me inside, but Patient Navigator Mary Ellen led a group on a walk, so the scenic countryside was enjoyed by some of us.

The activities varied from hands-on crafting and yoga to acupuncture.  I benefited from a chair massage that addressed my stressed and often cramping neck muscles.  Melissa McKinnon’s facial and skin care session, complete with scalp massager, was fun, girl time.  It helped me focus on my body in a positive and encouraging way, when the tendency in treatment is to perpetually judge and lament physical failings.

I also participated in a Qigong meditation practice led by Liana Wheatley.  It involved movement and mental focus on breath and moving energy within.  This is just the kind of thing that becomes vital to maintaining emotional strength, when the activities that worked in before-cancer life have lost their relevance or become too strenuous.  Liana did a great job of drawing us all along the mental path to more emotional and physical control.  The “I can do this” feeling she imparted was by itself a tonic.

Being surrounded by other metastatic women working through cancer and grappling with the same issues I am may have been the most therapeutic aspect of the day.  Like war veterans bonded by shared trauma, we are a tribe of sorts.  It was comforting and reassuring to be among “my own kind” and not have to explain or apologize or fit into some “normal”.    Though the many health care professionals that populate one’s life during cancer treatment are admirable, well-meaning and dedicated, they are not part of our tribe.   No doubt they have their own tribe, with shared heartbreak and frustrations–but though our constant companions, they are not “one of us”.   Our loving families and friends—God bless them!—unintentionally also impose an obligation to respond or gratitude tax.  The members of the tribe do not. Their presence is enough.

I am sure all the participants join me in being very grateful to everyone who contributed to Drs. Patt, King and Potter, as well as the energetic BCRC staff who made this special day happen—THANKS!  In retrospect, I realize that getting through diagnosis and treatment is made more bearable, not so much by any one thing, but rather by intermittent boosts like this retreat, that provide a jolt of emotional caffeine to keep us awake to life.

If you or someone you know is facing breast cancer, BCRC is here to help.  Please visit our website or call our helpline at 512-524-2560.

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