Reflections From My Breast Cancer Retreat Part 1:Doing It Backwards


It is Monday evening and I am decompressing from my 2-1/2 day retreat from Commonweal. What a deep and insightful time I have had!

At the end of every evening of the retreat we are asked to reflect on our day going backwards and answer 3 questions. The backwards part is interesting as it gets me to think in a different way than I normally would. It’s like counting backwards from a hundred when trying to fall asleep. The three questions are:

  1. What surprised you today?
  2. What touched you today?
  3. What inspired you today?

What surprised me was just how easy it was to talk to these women and connect even on day one. I had had some anxiety going in because I knew that over half of the participants knew each other from an ongoing support group. I would be in the minority of not knowing anyone. Thankfully, I didn’t have the same shyness I usually do because when you have or have had breast cancer, it opens you in a way that doesn’t leave any room for masks. You understand collectively that life is short.

ph-bedroomI was touched by some of the women’s willingness to be vulnerable about their fear and pain around treatment for their cancer. Being vulnerable in a large group has always been hard for me. I much prefer one on one. So to see and hear a few of these women bare their worst fears and what they have been through touches my soul.

I was touched also to see how the Universe continues to take care of me in sending me a familiar face when it came time for the movement portion of the retreat. Even more touching is that the movement instructor said she flashed on me on her way up to the retreat. We don’t really know each other very well other than through a dance a few months back at Contact Improv class and passing each other a few times at ODC. More and more, I get to experience how powerful intuition is!

almost thereOn this retreat I have been inspired by the honesty and resilience of these young women. They are some of the most courageous and wise women I have ever met. One evening we walk to the beach in search of rocks and shells. One woman wants to rappel down to the beach via a rope as the cliff is too steep to walk: she is in the middle of her radiation treatment! She asks if someone will do it with her.

climbing to the topSome of the women doubt themselves and don’t trust to be able to do this very physical act. This is understandable given that everyone has had major surgery, some have had chemotherapy and others have or will have radiation.

We end up doing it backwards. Instead of rappelling down, we rappel up the cliff with our pockets loaded full of rocks and shells–even more physically challenging!  We do it this way because having breast cancer is hard. There is no more life affirming act than when you set your self up for a challenge and then upping the ante to make it even harder. To the outside observer, this might not make any sense.

making it to the topBut that’s what Breast Friends do because every single one of us wants to live as fully alive in the moment as we possibly can. And doing it the “harder” way and getting through it is something we are used to.

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