When I started this life with cancer, I had no idea the mental and emotional toll it would take. It all seemed very physical to me at first. The first chemotherapy medicine I was given really knocked me off my feet physically, (not to mention balancing two little girls in the mix) and of course trying to understand that I had cancer was emotional. As my body started to feel better, I felt pretty good overall. Months went by and people would ask me how I was, and I always responded that I felt good. Because I did, somehow, I felt guilty saying that (which is strange.) I was busy with kids like many, I had a house to keep up like many did. Toward the end of my chemo I started to feel the true weight of this diagnosis on my mental state. I now understand how easily breast cancer patients can develop PTSD.
One evening as I was on Facebook, I noticed a post about a healing retreat that an organization I had joined was offering. I felt like I should go, I emailed in my story and was told the next day that I was accepted and would be attending the retreat. I was thrilled. Not only would this mama be receiving some time to herself, but tools to help me cope with this terrifying disease would be provided.
I packed my newly acquired Thirty-One bag, stopped for a pumpkin spice latte and on the road I went. I showed up to a lake house in Seguin greeted by some smiling women. As I entered the home I noticed a large picnic table with Kendra Scott bags by our names and other gifts. I was excited and felt honored to be chosen as an attendee for this retreat. We all made acquaintances and grabbed some delicious breakfast, thanks to our chef for the day, Brittany. She made us avocado toast and had granola, Greek yogurt and berries out for us. After we all said hello and filled our bellies we went outside to start our first activity.
A reiki/energy healer came to work with us, this was a pretty emotional activity, especially since we all just got to know one another. However, it was quite therapeutic, we sat in a circle, on a sheet, under tall trees surrounded by pretty gems and told our story. Then one by one
we took turns in the middle and let the group put their hands on us to help with our healing. Some were seeking love and value, others happiness, me I was seeking strength. We walked in for a snack feeling lighter and more at ease.
That afternoon we had some downtime, of which I chose to read my new book on the hammock, by the lake. Others laid on tubes in the water or went stand up paddle boarding. It was nice to just sit in the stillness of nature, watch the leaves sway, hear the boaters race by, or hear the waves lap up on the banks of the shore. Letting our minds and bodies rest from the busy day to day that we moms so easily let ourselves fall into without a second thought…cancer or not.
Lunch was delicious, we had pulled pork stuffed peppers and roasted zucchini and sweet potatoes. We told stories about our kids, made more connections and truly closed the gap. By that afternoon we were decorating cupcakes in what I named confection therapy. Cupcakes and cookies were given pink facelifts donned with glitter and sparkle. I think for a moment or two we all forgot we had cancer, and we were simply friends having fun sans kids.
A yoga session was next, we practiced some different kinds of healing yoga and meditation. Truly focusing on rest, which all of us needed.
Dinner was kale and mushroom stuffed raviolis with a beautiful salad including an array of brightly colored vegetables, and my salad fav, hearts of palm. We gathered on the couch afterwards to connect more and talk about our day and where we were with our battle. Our battles were similar but none were exactly alike. Women as young as 28 and as old as in their 40s (all incredibly young) were battling this heart wrenching disease. What people don’t understand is yes breast cancer is the most common of cancers, which means it may have the most response from research and donations. But it robs. Breast cancer robs us of our trust, our safety net, our peace. Regardless if are diagnosed with stage 1 or stage 4…cancer tries to steal our joy. However, a few said, it was the sorority we never wanted to join, but incredible blessings surfaced because we were indicted.
We all went to bed in hopes of a night of rest, as all the daddies were putting our babies to bed that night. I didn’t sleep as well as I had hoped, my hot flashes were out of control and I spent the night sweating profusely on the top bunk in my room. Finally, I decided enough was enough and crawled down to go read my book in a corner of light by the window in the kitchen. Soon after others woke and a pot of coffee was brewing, I poured myself a cup and walked down to the fire pit. I was able to bond with two others about tools for marriage when facing cancer. Something I was eager to acquire as I wanted to grow as this new version of myself, but I want to grow with Evan and with our little family, not separate.
Breakfast that morning was pecan, goat cheese, mushroom and spinach quiche, scones and fruit. After we all got a few cups of coffee into us we meandered back down near the lake for another activity. This time there was a heart shape made up of oyster shells in the grass. We all sat around the shells and listened to a passage about positivity vs. negativity. We were told to grab two shells and on one write all the negative that passes through our heads then we were to change gears and write all the positive that passes through our heads.
I chose a brown color for my negative oyster shell…mine consisted of words such as: isolated, fear, mistrust, terrified, lack of purpose, overwhelmed, no rest. My positive shell I chose a bright turquoise color and wrote words such as: solid marriage, Halen, Henley, faith, full of purpose, prayer, relationships, laughter, travel, surrounded, courage, perseverance, strength. Then we stood around the fire pit, where a fire was brewing, we heard a passage about negativity and were told to throw our negative oyster shells into the fire. Pretty quickly the shells were blackened and we could no longer read the words, then they began to pop and break from the heat of the fire. We heard the positive passage and were told to keep the positive shell. My sits in my kitchen as a reminder of all the goodness in my life despite this challenge I am facing.
We gathered back on the large picnic table for lunch, croissant sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, chicken salad, turkey and cheese wraps. Then chatted a bit to further our relationships as new friends.
After a few pictures by the lake with our newly obtained Survivor t-shirts (Sidenote: I felt shy to wear this shirt since I didn’t think I was considered a survivor until after I was told I was cancer free. My pink sisters quickly jumped in and said I became a survivor the day I was diagnosed. I loved that.) We had one last activity before it was time to resume reality. We were greeted by Jenny and she led us in an activity where we heard a passage from the bible about river stones, heard Jenny’s thoughts as a cancer survivor herself, and how river stones are tossed and turned, bumped and scraped, then we were given the freedom to decorate our river stones. I chose the passage Jenny shared Psalm 62:7
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
I wrote this on a large, smooth river stone with bright colors and now it rests in our front yard for all who walk toward our home will see. It reminds me daily that not only am I comparable to a river stone…being tossed, cracked, broken essentially, but that God is my salvation. He won’t be torn down, and as long as I have faith in Him, He will always save me. He is here for us, our Savior.
We all said our goodbyes after that, exchanged phone numbers and headed on our way. As I drove home I thought about the time away. I missed my girlies and Evan. I wrote them all letters during my time away, I thought about how important it is to have these healing retreats, healing moments away for everyone, not just me.
When was the last time you spent some time away from the busy day to day? By yourself? With your husband? With a group of uplifting women? If you haven’t I highly encourage you to do so, it is easy to get bogged down in our daily schedule, but if our cup isn’t filled we have nothing to pour into our precious family and friends. Fill up that cup.