Tag Archive | breast cancer retreat

Retreat!

My eyes sprung open in a state of utter panic!  Where was I?  I scanned the room.  Nothing looked familiar.  Who is that person sleeping in the bed right next to me?  Why does my head hurt?  And why, in God’s name, am I wearing a pink feather boa?  Then it dawned on me.  I am at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Annual Retreat.  I rolled over and slipped back into a deep and peaceful sleep.

I just attended my third annual retreat, and what a blast! Where to begin?  It just keeps getting better and better!  In 2012, I was invited to be guest speaker at this event.  I had no idea what it was all about, but I agreed to give it a shot, sharing my “perks” with 200 courageous survivors and warriors.  (By the way, I use the term “warrior” to refer to those who are in active battle with the disease.  As far as I am concerned, the battle never ends.  Even though I am cancer free at the moment, and I am referred to as a “survivor”, the threat of recurrence is always there.  Therefore I continue to battle cancer on a daily basis through my lifestyle choices.  But I digress…..)  So there I was, at my first retreat in 2012, not knowing a soul, and not sure that I really belonged there, when these two skallywags came up to me.

judy and suzeMe, Judy and Suze

Judy and Suze took me under their wings and we struck up a friendship that I am sure will last a lifetime.  Isn’t it funny how you can feel that instant connection with some people?  Even though we had just met, it felt as if we were old friends; like our souls were reuniting after a long absence. I truly believe that soul mates come in all forms, and these ladies are certainly two of mine.  I only get together with them once a year, and that is one of the reasons why I really look forward to the retreat.

Here is another reason I look forward to it:

2014 retreat etc 067Me and Dana

Dana is considered the Rock Star of the Retreat.  She is a fabulous musician and overall phenomenal woman.  Although she received chemo on Friday, she entertained us all weekend with her angelic voice.  I am sure there must have been 50 of us crammed into her room Saturday night, singing, laughing, and sometimes crying.  ‘Cause that’s what you do at these retreats (that and drink booze!)   If you would like to listen to Dana’s song, I have included the link.  Warning: better grab a box of tissues first!  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U07BVbZerhE)

Just in case anybody from the CBCF is reading this, I must add, we don’t just go for the partying ya know.  The retreat is also about education and empowerment.   I didn’t get to take in all of the sessions, because I was pimping my book, but those that I did attend were fabulous!  I am sensing a new movement emerging, as survivors are taking more control of their own health.  This was reflected in the sessions.  These two gave a fabulous session on Surviving and Thriving with Stage 4 cancer:

sherry and sharonSharon and Sherry

I could talk all day about this dynamic duo.  In a nutshell, both were diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and given their death sentence of 2 years left to live.  Both educated themselves on lifestyle choices for cancer prevention, and started making the changes.  Against the odds,  they put their cancer into remission.  It is far beyond two years (I cannot say for sure, but I am thinking at least 6 years) and both of these women have NO EVIDENCE OF CANCER in their bodies.  Conventional medicine is wonderful and I am very grateful for my treatments.  BUT, if you are really serious about kicking cancer’s butt, you gotta do the work.  Just sayin’ (I must add, cancer is a bitch, and adopting a healthy lifestyle does not guarantee that you will beat it.  But just look at these two miracle survivors!  What do you have to lose?)

In addition to the sessions, one of the things I really enjoyed this year was the healthy food.  For the first time EVA, I ordered the vegan option and did not get stir fried veggies in a sticky, sugary sauce!   In fact, my vegan meal was so delicious, that Suze was picking off my plate and practically ignoring her roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!  I know that everyone is not in to this way of eating, but it is great that we have that choice.  We even had a session where this fabulous chef showed us how to cook healthy and delicious food.

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Survivor Chef, Stephanie

I could have listened to Stephanie all day, she is so funny. (I hope she gets her own cooking show!)  She showed us that kale and quinoa are not so scary, and that they can actually taste GOOD!

So that is my report from this year’s retreat.  I am currently detoxing my body with lots of lemon water and yoga and getting pumped for my TEDx talk which takes place tomorrow night.  I will keep you posted.  Have a great day, mes amis!

 

How Flo Got Her Groove Back!

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(L to R) Kelly Ray, Me, Dana, and Suze being photo-bombed!)

If you are as old as me, you might recall the 1998 movie, “How Stella got her Groove Back”.   It is the story of how a forty-something year old woman had gotten into a bit of a rut in her life.  However, she managed to get her groove back by having a romantic fling with a much younger man.  Well, let me tell ya, there is nothing like a battle with cancer to suck the groove right outta ya!  To be honest however, I can’t completely blame cancer for the loss of my groove.  I think it actually took a hike a number of years before cancer attacked me.  Don’t get me wrong, I was happy and I certainly enjoyed my life.  But due to the stresses of daily living, being a single mom and just plain getting older, I had lost my sense of playfulness…..my sexiness…..my OOOMPH!  But guess what guys?   Last weekend, Flo got her groove back!  No, I did not bed a handsome young stud.  Nor did I jet off to Tuscany on a wine-tasting tour.  Believe it or not, I got MY groove back at a breast cancer retreat with a group of nearly 200 survivors, ranging in age from their early thirties to their eighties.

Before I tell the story of how I got my groove back, I will set the scene by introducing you to the old Flo.  The old Flo, “Groovy Flo”, as I like to call her, loved to dance.   And man could she shake her stuff on the dance floor!  Not only could she dance, but she had this amazing ability to remember the lyrics to nearly every song she ever heard (a talent which her guitar playing boyfriend, Shawn really envies).   So while she was grooving on the dance floor, she would also belt the tunes out of her as if she was some kind of rock star. It mattered not that she could not carry a tune, as she couldn’t be heard over the roar of the music anyway.  But boy did she look cool using a beer bottle as a pretend microphone and throwing in a bit of air guitar at random intervals.  Yeah, Groovy Flo could really rock, and rock she did nearly every weekend in her twenties and thirties.

Groovy Flo got a few curve balls thrown at her in her forties.  Her relationships with men were just not working out (despite her sexy dance moves).  Her youngest son was diagnosed with autism.  Then to put the icing on the cake, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.   That was the death of Groovy Flo.  Then along came Spiritual Flo.  You would like her.  Spiritual Flo was really in to meditation, prayer, positive attitude, and trying to find the good in every person and every situation.  Although Spiritual Flo did not EVER rock down (well, except for a few times in the hot tub with her favorite cuz, Lil), she was very much at peace and more content with her life than she had ever been.

Then, as fate would have it, Spiritual Flo went to a breast cancer retreat in May, 2013, where she hooked up with two amazing survivors:  Judy and Suze.

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(L to R) Me, Judy and Suze

The three had an instant connection, like three old souls who had been sisters in a previous life and were finally reunited.  At the retreat, they were inseparable.  So it goes to follow that the three of them wound up sitting together at the Saturday night survivor’s dance.  Now let me tell you, you haven’t seen a place being rocked until you are in a room with nearly 200 breast cancer survivors, alcohol and loud music!  But Spiritual Flo was feeling a little out of place.  It had been at least six years since she had rocked it on the dance floor.  Watching those women with their sexy moves really intimidated her.  One was dancing burlesque for God’s sake!   Finally, Suze and Judy enticed her to the dance floor (after a couple of glasses of courage).  At first, she was a little stiff, but the more she danced, the better she moved.  It turns out that Groovy Flo was not actually dead after all.  She had just been sleeping for a few years, and despite the fact that she was 46 years old, she could still rock it on the dance floor.

Now you might think that a battle ensued between Groovy Flo and Spiritual Flo.  After all, how could the two distinct personalities possibly inhabit the same body?    But alas, the two personalities combined perfectly and melded to form a new Flo: a Flo who can meditate in the morning, and rock it down at night.  I like to call this Flo, “Survivor Flo”.

There are not enough words in the world for me to express my gratitude to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF), its coordinator, Paula Tessier, and the amazing committee who work so hard to put off this annual event.  We, the participants, are in different stages of our healing journeys.  Some are still going through treatments, while others are celebrating 50 or more years of survivorship!  For most of us, our bodies have mended and our physical scars have healed.  But many of us still carry with us deep emotional and mental wounds from our cancer journeys.  While our bodies have healed, we still need to heal our fragile spirits.  By coming together to laugh, to cry, to learn from each other, to sing a song with Dana, and to dance with wild abandon, we make great strides in healing our broken spirits.  Again, thank you CBCF!

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I like to call this one “7 women, 5 boobs between them”

My Photo Journal, 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I would like to share with you some pictures, which show the highs and lows of the past year for me.

new year 1

2012 got off to a great start with a FREE trip to Florida (compliments of my sister, Lynette and hubbie Jeff).  Soaking up the sun for a couple of weeks, while recouping from my chemo, was definitely one of the perks of having cancer!

happy birthday

On January 28th, I celebrated my 45th birthday, just four day after undergoing a mastectomy.

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In February it was off to St. John’s for me for five weeks of Radiation Treatments.  It was nice to spend time with Shawn, but I really missed my kiddies!

new year 2

I finished the last of my cancer treatments on March 30th, almost exactly one year from the time I was diagnosed.  I was home just in time to start my seeds with Ben!

New year 3

In April, Shawn and I traveled to Nova Scotia for my very first Breast Cancer Retreat.  It was a very “healing experience” for me.

new year 4

In May, I went to my second retreat, but this time was a little different:  I was guest speaker to an audience of more than 200 women! (Definitely a perk) I also met some great friends along the way.

New year 5

Shawn and I enjoyed lots of outdoor activities during the summer.  This photo was taken in June in Shoal Harbor.

emerge

In July, I experienced  a “little setback”, a lingering infection which put me in the hospital three times on I.V antibiotics.  (Definitely NOT a perk!)

new year 8

In August it was off to PEI with Shawn and the Williams family for some much needed R and R.

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In September I went back to work as a School Counselor, after a 17 month break away from my work.  It was so great to connect with the kids again.

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For Halloween, 2012, I dressed as a Blue Butterfly; a symbol which held a lot of meaning for me during my cancer journey.

Me, Donovan and Kaitlyn in Times Square

Me, Donovan and Kaitlyn in Times Square

November found me in New York.  I had promised my kids when I was diagnosed that when I was well enough we would take a trip to the Big Apple….but if you were following my blog, you will know that it turned out to be the “Big Rotten Apple” for me.

CPG_9962In early December, I said good-bye to my beloved Patches, my constant companion through cancer.

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But the year ended on a great note, surrounded by the ones I love.

Happy New Year!  May you be blessed with good health, good friends and a supportive family in 2013. (Those are the REAL perks!)

Guest Blogger: Dana Cox

Florence asked me a LONG time ago to consider being one of her guest bloggers.  Well I am FINALLY getting around to it…now that her 100th perk is just around the corner!!  I had been corresponding with Florence long before we’d even met!  I came across her blog and felt the need to contact her, being a breast cancer survivor myself, and having spent a few years on the Burin Peninsula! I read a few of her posts and immediately fell in love with her sense of humor and how she approached this beast we call breast cancer. She reminded me so much of myself!  So, I immediately called a close friend of mine, who just happens to be the organizer of the Annual Breast Cancer Retreat,  and said, “If you don’t have a guest speaker for the retreat, then you have one now!  You HAVE to check out Florence Jarvis and her Perks of Cancer!” Well, I am happy to say that I had the pleasure of meeting Florence in March 2012, and then in May 2012 at the Breast Cancer Retreat! What a fabulous guest speaker she was!!

This was my second Breast Cancer Retreat!  Sitting in a room filled with almost 200 breast cancer survivors is a feeling I will never truly be able to describe! It brings me back to last year’s retreat!   I remember walking into last year’s retreat like a Warrior!  Less than a month post-treatment, I was ready to kick up my feet and celebrate my accomplishment!  I, Dana Cox, had taken down the beast!  You see,  I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in June 2010 at the ripe old age of 31.  My husband and I had been married for 9 years and were blessed with three beautiful children (Spencer-6, Bella-4, and Claire-2, at the time of my diagnosis).  The last thing I had ever imagined would be a cancer diagnosis.  And so the story goes….6 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments.  If there was ever a “good” cancer story, I had it! Through all six chemo treatments, I was healthy as a horse!  No sickness, no vomiting!  Just the occasional “blah” day!  But otherwise, perfectly healthy…well…you know…!!  Then came the radiation treatments….all 30 of them!  I chose to drive to St. John’s every day rather than stay in St.John’s for the 6 weeks of treatments.  Remember, I had three small kiddies at home that needed their momma!!  So, off I went!  Sometimes I’d take the kids with me (and a babysitter to watch them while I was getting “zapped”).  Sometimes I would go alone….just to get away from the little animals…..God love them! But when it was done, WOW!  What a feeling!!   So, you can imagine my excitement as I walked into that breast cancer retreat a few weeks later,  having beaten cancer!  I was unstoppable!

I was ready to get back to my life…back to being a normal mom, a wife, a teacher, a daughter!  To stop being “that poor young woman with cancer,” “The reverend’s sick daughter,” “That sick one with three small kids…poor thing!”  I am sure you get the point!! I still laugh at the “How are you doing?  Well, you LOOK good!” comments.  I mean, I had beaten cancer….shouldn’t I start going back to looking normal, or bad, or whatever they thought I looked like before I got the cancer in the first place?   LOL!  Well, unfortunately, I didn’t get many months to look normal, before I was “looking good” again.  In January, 2012, just 9 months after my last treatment, I was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer.  After a few months with a bad back and some x-rays, low and behold, the cancer had taken up residence in my lower posterior rib!  The nerve of it!!

This new diagnosis made 2012’s Breast Cancer Retreat a little more difficult to swallow!  I was really looking forward to the retreat, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, “When will be my last retreat?  Will this be the last one I get to attend?  I was lucky the first time….but…..”  Sitting through the memorial service was a moment I will not soon forget!  I would look at the names on that banner of those who had fought hard but lost the battle, and I could just picture my name there.  It was brutal….but I made it through…..barely!!  It was time to move on…..or in the words of my friend, to “Frig off!”  I won’t let myself go there….often!   I try not to let myself think about the long term!  I mean, it’s in my bones now!  It’s no longer curable!  I remember what my doctor said to me after giving me the news.   She said “Go home!  Live your life!”  It  hit me like a ton of bricks….live my life? Was this the beginning of my death sentence?  How much longer did I actually have?  Were they not telling me something?    But now I look at it differently! I look at it, not as a death sentence, but as a life sentence – a reason to get out there and LIVE! Would I love to be able to take my family and travel all over the world?  To do everything that we ever dreamed?  You’d better believe it!!  But unfortunately when you are told to go home and live your life, they don’t send the Bank of Montreal home with you!  But I AM living my life!  I am enjoying my family, my husband, my three children, my friends!  Taking in all I can!  No one knows how long they have on this earth – not me, not you!  So the only thing ANY of us can do is go and live our lives – making memories that will last an eternity!

Since my diagnosis in June 2010, I’ve certainly been on a wild ride!  I survived the first round of cancer!  I wrote a song about my cancer journey!   I have had my “Cancer Song,” as my kids have named it, professionally recorded.  I am in the process of recording a full album.  I’ve met and sang with Johnny Reid (I’m tellin’ ya….when I say I’ve lived……I’ve lived!!!) .  I have met some fabulous people who have changed my life.  How I ever managed to live without them, is beyond me!  You know who you are!!  Can I thank cancer for this??  Hmmm….well, yeah, I guess I can!  In some sort of twisted way, cancer has had a positive affect on my life!  Strange, I know!  But true!

So, yeah, my name is Dana Cox. I am 33, and I have incurable cancer!  But that’s okay!  Please don’t pity me, don’t feel sorry for me!!  Just support me!  Support my many friends who are breast cancer survivors! Support those still battling the disease!  Support organizations that strive to put an end to this disease!  And cancer or no cancer, remember to LIVE – I know I certainly will!!

Dana Cox

Salmon Cove, NL

danacox1@yahoo.ca

Perk # 81: My First Breast Cancer Retreat

Brigadoon Village (as magical a place as it sounds)

On Friday, April 13th, Shawn and I traveled to Nova Scotia to attend the “Skills For Healing” breast cancer weekend retreat.   I was rather quiet on the drive, which prompted Shawn to ask, “Is everything okay?”   Suddenly an image came to mind of a plane landing, and a voice in my head said, “Ladies and Gentlemen we are making our final descent into the land of breast cancer.”   It was sort of like the feeling I got the first time I went to the cancer clinic.  Although I had been diagnosed for many months, there was a surreal quality about actually being there.  My mind was telling me, “You know Flo, you must really have breast cancer if you are sitting in a cancer clinic.”   But this time the voice said, “You know Flo, you must really be a breast cancer survivor if you are going to one of those retreats.”

Attending this retreat has been one of the most healing parts of my cancer journey (as well as one of the perks of having cancer!).  The wonderful facilitators, Dr. Rob Rutledge, and Dr. Timothy Walker (http://healingandcancer.org/)  simply exuded love and compassion as they taught skills such as meditation, yoga, how to re-frame our thoughts, and how to honour our bodies.  For me, these concepts were not new, and while it was a good opportunity for me to brush up on my existing skills, the real healing came from being part of the group: the healing circle.

While I have many “cyber-friends”  who share my diagnosis, this was the first time I was actually in a room full of women on various stages of their breast cancer journey.  It was so liberating to just be able to take off my wig and not worry about the shock value of others seeing me that way.  For the first time, having breast cancer did not make me different.  I was among kindred spirits.  Not only was I able to take off my hair, but I also took off my “Super Cancer Hero” cape and spilled my guts about my deepest fears and anxieties.   I cried.  Not one of those movie star cries, where a few tears creep down the cheek without ever disturbing the make-up.  No, this was more of a wounded animal howl accompanied by lots of snot and mascara-stained tears.  Oh, but it felt so good to open that floodgate!

I realized that I have been so intent on maintaining a positive attitude, that I have suppressed many of my “negative” emotions.  On this retreat I discovered that when it comes to feelings, it does not have to be one or the other.   In other words, allowing myself to feel anger, sadness and fear does not diminish my positive attitude.  As one lady said, “It is possible to experience joy amid suffering.”

I learned so much from this group of women, and I will carry their stories in my heart forever.  I have permission to share one of these stories with you.  Jody Cook is a 35 year old Paramedic from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.  The first time I saw Jody, I was mesmerized by her presence.  She has one of those smiles that just lights up a room and you can’t help but to smile back.  Her sparkling eyes hinted at a mischievous spirit, which even her recent chemo could not dim.

Jody is the single mom to 9 year old Olivia and 12 year old Rodney (she is also the owner of a deaf horse, which Shawn feels I should mention).   In February, Jody underwent a double mastectomy.  That did not make her any different from many of the other women at our retreat.  What did make her stand out however, is how she carried this new body of hers.   Man, she rocked the survivor look!    Seeing Jody, so confident and comfortable with her flat chest made me feel kind of sheepish about the wad of cotton batting that I had stuffed into the left side of my bra.  Rather than lament about the loss of her hair, Jody saw it as an opportunity to experiment with different hair colors and styles.  However, she was just as comfortable going bald.  What most impressed me about this beautiful woman was her incredible openness and honesty.   In a group discussion about stress, most of us were willing to open up a little and show our human side.  Jody told this story: “One day I was feeling really tired and stressed and the kids were just driving me nuts.  I got so frustrated I turned to them and yelled: WOULD THE BOTH OF YOU JUST F**K RIGHT OFF NOW!”   The group erupted in laughter.  That story opened the space for all of us to be honest and show our vulnerable side.  Thanks Jody!

Dark haired Jody

Blonde Jody

Medium-brown haired Jody

Tip: Allowing yourself to feel anger, sadness, fear and other “healing feelings”  does not diminish your positive attitude.