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Nurse Creates Free Retreat for Cancer Patients, Caregivers and Loved Ones

In 1986 Gretchen Schodde, one of the first nurse practitioners in Washington State, created a hillside oasis overlooking the Hood Canal where people could find renewal and sense of well-being. But her dream morphed into something larger as she took a challenging journey when her mother struggled with cancer. During that time, Schodde, RN, MN, ARNP, FNP-BC, learned about the Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Bolinas, Calif., which empowers people with cancer to live better and possibly longer.

Using many of the tenets put forth by Commonweal, Schodde created programs at Harmony Hill in Union, Wash., for those living with the disease.

“Since starting in 1994, we have been named as one of the five best programs inspired by Commonweal,” says Schodde, who originally started Harmony Hill in an old farmhouse. “Some 2,500 people have come through our program.”

Harmony Hill’s Cancer Program, which offers three-day retreats and one-day workshops for cancer patients, caregivers and those who have lost a loved one to cancer, is provided at no cost to the participants.

Harmony Cottage.

“People who have cancer really get hammered in all ways,” Schodde says. “I didn’t want those coming through Harmony Hill to have to worry about how they were going to pay for it.”

Harmony Hill funding is fueled by donations and philanthropic organizations such as the Boeing Employees Community Fund. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave a $700,000 challenge gift, and the Nordstrom family — owners of the property — provide a free 40-year lease and made a contribution toward the construction of the 4,000-foot multipurpose Elmer and Katharine Nordstrom Great Hall.

Retreat participant Linda Singer, left, and Harmony Hill founder Gretchen Schodde, RN.

The fee-based Wellness Program — which also helps fund the cancer program — is open to all and includes hourlong seminars as well as weeklong retreats that focus on yoga, sustainable living, burnout prevention, nutrition and sustainable gardening. Harmony Hill also raises money by renting out the facility. Located on 11.5 acres of rolling hillside, woodlands and lush flower and vegetable gardens with its views of the water, Harmony Hill is a peaceful place. Produce and herbs from the gardens are used to create wonderful — and healthy — meals for guests. It is all part of teaching cancer patients the tools needed for their journeys, such as stress management, coping skills, mindful walking and yoga.

Harmony Hill’s newest offering is the Health Professional Program, created in collaboration with VOICE (Vision, Opportunity, Inspiration, Compassion and Education) and the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health, to provide resources for nurses and other healthcare professionals in areas such as burnout prevention, teamwork and renewal. These workshops and retreats offer contact hours for continuing nursing education and are approved by the American Holistic Nurses Association’s Education Approval Committee, an accredited approver by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.

But the major focus at Harmony Hill is comfort and renewal.

“We’re all about nurturing our guests,” Schodde says. “We have a nurse in each guest building. If there are any problems, I want to get it assessed and jump right on it. The nurses are essentially on call all the time to do things as simple as giving out an extra blanket or a back rub. They are there to help.”

By | 2020-04-15T13:03:19-04:00 April 4th, 2011|Categories: Regional, West|0 Comments

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