(Content courtesy of the National Breast Cancer Foundation)
By Rebecca Anderson
Imagine spending a weekend with someone you love in a picturesque wooded area, surrounded by blooming trees, quiet gardens and a shimmering pond, where you enjoy abundant and delicious food, restorative massage, gentle yoga sessions, many moments of laughter and hugs — and tears.
This is not a vacation. You’ve been invited to this retreat because you have metastatic breast cancer, or your sister/daughter/mother/best friend has it. Metastatic, or Stage 4, breast cancer, means the cancer that began in your breast has moved to other parts of your body essential for life — your lungs, brain, liver or bones — perhaps before you even knew you had breast cancer. Such a diagnosis is life altering. Cancer will be a part of your life — for the rest of your life.
Because metastatic patients face a unique set of emotions and challenges, the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s partner, Johns Hopkins, offers weekend retreats for patients and their caregivers. Think of it as a fully immersive two-day support group. In mid-April, with the help of our supporters, NBCF provided this experience for nine patients and their female caregivers, and I had the humbling honor of attending to see firsthand how much this matters.
In full disclosure, I began the trip with a lot of anxiety. I was very worried about saying the wrong thing. Also, hearing story after story of women with advanced disease filled me with a certain fear of potentially finding myself in their shoes.
However, something changed in me over the course of the weekend, and as I reflect on the experience, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. “The patient is more than her pathology,” said Lillie Shockney, organizer of the retreat and a pioneer in patient navigation. She is so right.
Anne, Debbie E., Debbie H., Diane, Kay, Linda, Machelle, Maggie and Susanna are not just metastatic breast cancer patients; they are sisters, daughters, moms, wives, grandmothers and friends. Among them are engineers, immigrants, soccer moms — and they are all survivors. I came away from the weekend knowing that I had been given a gift. I was able to learn things from these women about hope, family, faith and joy that many people miss without personally experiencing something this devastating. That said, I will do my best to share this gift.
Our National Breast Cancer Foundation blog will post a series of blogs highlighting their stories to reveal the top three lessons I learned from these incredible women:
1. We can redefine what it means to be present.
2. We can find hope again after we have lost it.
3. We may not have all the answers, but information provides hope.
The blogs may be especially helpful if you or someone you know is facing metastatic breast cancer, but ultimately these are life lessons we all can learn from. Thank you in advance for tuning in to our Restoring Hope series.
For more information on cancer care, read the CE module, “Cancer Navigation.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally published by National Breast Cancer Foundation.