“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” - Denis Waitley
If I had to summarize my experience Wednesday at the first annual Edith Sanford Embracing Life- Breast Cancer Survivor's Retreat, I would use those three words- it was a day filled with love, grace, and gratitude.
We had an amazing day!
Rustic Oaks was such a beautifully charming, and serene setting for the event. It was very cool and cloudy when I arrived early in the day.
The outdoor fire pit was roaring when we arrived, yet it just didn't warm up enough for us to enjoy time outside of the barn, and it was mere cinders by early afternoon when I finally got outside.
This is what greeted us at our tables. A cute burlap bag filled with river rocks that we were instructed to write on throughout the day. The first rock, fear, was done for each of us.
I was assigned to the technology table to host a roundtable chat session.
Here was the stage! A point somewhere near the screen for us to stand in front of the 100 or so women survivors in attendance. It was a full
Rustic and quaint and charming all come to mind when you see the layout of the building. What a great place for a retreat!
The only struggle I truly had- was trying to take photos with the lack of strong lighting and a cloudy day. I also wanted to be present and not too distracted so I could take it all in.
Shortly after I shot the above photo- the room filled and we were under way. We had an opening speaker and a welcoming presentation from Dr. Shelby Terstriep. I was seated at a side table for speakers, and was being miked at the time. I was amazingly calm. I just wanted to take it all in.
Then a photo of me flashed up on the screen and I got a wonderful introduction from Shelby.
The next 10 minutes flew by. I could feel myself being intently listened too. I saw rapt attention on the faces of the other women. What really enveloped me, was a raw understanding, that I was in the midst of women who spoke the same language as me. Who were unequivocally, living in my cancer world, just like me.
And so when I was done speaking? The most profoundly amazing thing happened... they all stood up. Applause thundered throughout the room. It vibrated my port! And touched me to the core of my being. It was profoundly moving. Throughout the day- ALL of the presenters were given that same rousing round of applause and standing ovation- over and over again- because- we were clearly a sisterhood of survivors. Of women warriors. Of people, bonded by something far bigger than us.
As soon as my 10 minutes were up, I got the privilege and honor to introduce Dr. Panwalkar. Since he was closer to where I was sitting, I managed a couple of photos.
Dr. P surprised me with saying some kind words about me, and then spent the next 30 minutes or so presenting on Breast Cancer Management- a brief history of where it's been and where its headed.
He was a dynamic and engaging speaker. I love seeing the "teacher" come out in him.
He was also very well received by the audience and when he finished, one of the women half-ways stood up and thanked him directly. She was clearly in the midst of her cancer battle, using a cane to help stand up, with a scarf secured over her head. But she told him as a stage iv survivor, she was thrilled by how hope-filled his message was and how positive he sounded.
Pretty sure I was beaming. That's the Dr. P I've grown to know and admire so much.
I even managed a short clip of his presentation, below.
And then, while in the midst of our next speaker who was doing some meditation with us... Dr. Panwalkar quietly left the retreat.
I was so bummed I didn't get a chance to say anything to him. When I spoke of my gratitude journal earlier in my presentation, what I didn't say is that the one thing that has consistently shown up page- after page- is his name. All the little, all the big- all the ways he has seen me through.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with breakout sessions. They were on a variety of topics and so engaging and filled with helpful information. Its occurred to me, that along with a cancer diagnosis, comes a crash course in all things related to having cancer. It instantly makes us students. And what was so evident to me, is how much knowledge and wisdom these women have gained throughout their journeys.
Breast cancer has clearly transformed how so many of us have chosen to live life. The other thing that struck me was how none of us stage iv survivors/speakers, had ever met before. But our speeches were interlaced with the words, gratitude, love, grace and living fully in the present moments. We may each have had our own take, our own story, but they were so similar in those common elements and it was really a moving discovery.
The sun came out for a few short minutes, but quickly disappeared under the clouds again.
This is my friend Kristin, who just completed treatment and celebrated one year since diagnosis! She is a beautiful woman-inside and out, and I have loved getting to know her. Kristin was asked to participate in the creation of this beautiful glass sculpture piece.
Kristin added the logo of our Breast Friends Cancer Support Group. So neat to see the artwork! It will be auctioned off with funds going to support breast cancer survivors here in our local community.
I tried so hard to garner a photo of Shelby Terstriep. But she was one busy and engaged woman and this is not my photo. I was just honored to get to meet her finally Wednesday. Her patients all speak so lovingly of her, and its clear after our day with her- why they do.
Our final speaker, was a stage iv breast cancer patient of Shelby's. And she brought us all to tears. She says Shelby is the type of doctor who celebrates your victories with you, and sheds tears of sadness with you when the news is less than desirable. She teaches you, brings research to you, and makes you feel like you matter.
Clearly- Shelby was all of that yesterday, and so much more. Her and her team did an outstanding job at the retreat. Her vision for the future of breast cancer treatment and it's survivors seems truly to be her life's mission.
That bag of rocks we all wrote out words on? Went home with us. The one with the word fear written on it? Thrown in the river bed by the side of the barn at the end of the day. Clearly, not needed by any of us, with all the tools we were armed with that day, to put fear in its place.
I left the retreat inspired, moved, and touched.