I had been invited by a friend of mine to come to a breast cancer retreat shortly after my diagnosis and surgery. As always I am game to learn and meet new people.
I walked on the bus a bit nervous but incredibly curious. The air was filled with the voices of the 40 or so women that were on the bus as old friends reconnected and new ones were made.
We arrived at the hotel and settled in and started the retreat with a dinner which was lovely, and then after dinner we did something called the circle of friends. We sat around the table and people told their coles notes version of there experience with the disease. When people tell you that this disease is different for everyone that is very true, although through the weekend I would hear similar stories to mine, each persons story was unique to them and oh so very personal. A moment came for me a little while after that when one by one, all 184 of the women went up to the mic to say how long since their battle with cancer began. It ranged in decades to under a year. I could feel as I sat there something welling up inside of me and tried to push it down but as I walked towards the mic my emotions rushed to the top and as I said the words " 7 1/2 weeks". I cried. I walked all the way back to my seat making that ugly face you do when you are trying to stop from crying. I was to learn I think I was the most newly diagnosed one there or so I think. I was angry at myself for crying, I wanted to be proud as many of the women seemed, but I was just sad. Strength it would seem would come in many forms over the weekend. Later that night in the form of a lovely glass of red wine with some lovely women.
The weekend seemed to be jammed pack with things to do. Information on becoming a Dragon Boater, reconstruction and learning more about my pathology report. We heard many stories of strength from people who have struggled in life and have chosen to grown and learn from there struggle and now give back in one form or another. We laughed till we cried watching a actress from St. John's tell stories to us with characters as unique as every woman in the room.
Some people have asked me what was the moment I will remember and I guess it came after the remembrance ceremony. This event involved every woman there. We each laid a stone in a water bowl and then lit candles and one by one each person stood up and said the name of someone we wanted remembered that lost their battle with breast cancer. My turn came, I stood up and said " Mary Browne", my mother who died on March 4th, 1996. My heart ached. She would never of believed that I would be standing in a room with breast cancer saying her name. As the service concluded women were crying and hugging each other as they grieved for the friends and family who have gone and I think a little for each other as we gave this terrible disease a name or face
I had a met a woman earlier that day and had breakfast with her,and as I left to walk out when it was all done I felt a hand grab my arm and say " excuse me". It was her, she looked at me and said " I just want you to know that I can see your strength and that I know you are going to be okay" She told me she just wanted me to know that. I was taken a back that someone I briefly met in the morning felt some connection to me and that it was so strong that she needed to tell me what she feeling. She made me feel as if what she said is exactly what is going to happen. I know I needed to believe her. It was like she was a conduit for something greater than both of us.I don't know if I will ever forget that moment when she looked at me and said those words and I know I will carry it everyday with me. If she believed that strongly then so should I.
We ended the retreat that night after dinner with a dance. Women who had seemed reserved and conservative were kicking up their heels and the energy in the room was palatable. We danced and laughed.
I walk away from this retreat with new friendships, and a deeper and greater respect for the women who were there. Each one with their own story, each one there to be part of a group bonded by an experience with a disease that takes a piece of you away physically but seems to empower them with a strength to support and carry on.
I am grateful and deeply inspired as I move on to the next steps of my journey.