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Has anyone ever been to a Cancer Retreat? I’ve never been to a sleep-away one myself, though apparently there are several of them available in my general area, especially during the good weather months.

They appear to be operated by small non-profits who, for whatever reason, want to make this sort of experience possible for survivors. One nearby retreat, exclusively for breast cancer survivors, is held on a local nature sanctuary, which rents the land and modest facilities to organizations. Corporate sponsorship defrays most of the cost for the attendees.  One of the women in my local support group went to a weekend last summer. She said that she liked it, although she found some activities to be more emotionally intense than she had expected.

Another non-profit will be hosting one, open only to women who are cancer survivors, at a slightly different but still convenient location in mid-October. That time of year would be beautiful in the woods around here, so I am tempted. The cost for this weekend—food, lodging, and activities—is only $20! Skeptical me, I keep thinking there must be some sort of catch…like those promotions for free time-shares that only require attendance at a 90-minute presentation. My unease might have something to do with the pink mosaic cross prominently featured in the publicity materials. (I'm not anti-Christian, I just want an organization to be completely up-front about its goals and premises. My own preference would be for a secular experience.)

I suppose another reason for my reluctance comes from my unwillingness to squander my time. I must admit, I do perfectly well with that task myself, but I’m just not sure that spending a weekend among strangers with a rather amorphous agenda is high on my priorities. I’d much rather finagle a weekend on the road with my family, or visiting Kossacks, or both.

Eh, now that I’ve written all this, I have to admit that my attendance at the detox facility in November, 2011, had many elements of a retreat. We had group meetings, and group presentations; we did have some limited opportunity to be outdoors; a special diet was part of the experience. It was not cheap, however, and though I think it had some benefit for me I wouldn’t recommend it to others without serious reservations (hence the lack of a link).

And for that matter, I did attend a day-long retreat at the local Cancer Support Community that had some enjoyable elements. We had an artsy workshop, then maybe a journaling one, and then a discussion about cancer and sexuality. The lunch was mostly potluck and not terribly healthy (including the contribution from the Center). It was all right, but I’ll have to reflect a little more on why I was not quite satisfied. I still haven’t finished the necklace I started there, though I think I’m close to tying it off at last.

From what I have seen, almost all of these retreats in the area are intended for women. (There are a few for children, and a few also for bereaved survivors of those who have died from cancer.) Not too many offered for men. I have some ideas about why that might be so; what do you think?

To prime the pump, let me offer my fantasy of what would make a perfect cancer recovery retreat. We’d each have single rooms with comfortable beds and luxurious bathrooms attached. We’d have lights out by 11:00 and start the morning at 8:00. All meals would be light, preferably meat- and dairy-free, with fresh and local ingredients as much as possible. We’d have several guided workshops every day, offering yoga, qi gong, and t’ai chi along with pleasant walks in the nearby gardens/woods. (No bugs, of course.) I think I could handle a crafts workshop daily too, maybe with beads. Oh, and at least an hour of guided meditation per day. And an open-air hot tub available for at least one dip per evening. How’s that sound? As a concession to other cancer realities, I wouldn't mind a cooking workshop, or a workshop on how to deal with insurance companies (public or private) without losing one's temper. Or how about one on getting ongoing help from people once the initial crisis is past? Huh, maybe I should work on coordinating something like this myself! ;)

I suspect my description above goes a long way to explain why these tend to be female-focused events. It’s not that men couldn’t benefit from having some time away. The problem is that most of these activities tend to be strongly gender-typed, without having many alternatives that men might appreciate doing themselves. Actually, come to think of it, I went on another day-long retreat several years ago in which we were promised a low ropes course—but rainy weather intervened. I’d still like to do that. I’m a sucker for those cheesy team-building activities. Ah, I think there’s more than one punch line just waiting to be written after this kind of set-up….

So: What do you all think about the concept of a retreat? Have you ever been on a retreat along these lines, that is designed specifically for people with cancer? How was it? What did you get out of the experience? What would have made it better? What would your ideal retreat include--participants, activities, food, coordinators, location?

Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.

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