“What am I doing? Why am I driving all the way up to northern Wisconsin? No one is going to be able to help me. This is just dumb. I can do this recovery stuff on my own.”
There I was, thinking and driving again. At the moment, I was reconsidering a trip up north to Madeline Island for a Breast Cancer Recovery retreat called Infinite Boundaries. That little voice called fear was screaming at me, trying to make me change my mind, my direction, turn around and go back home. This retreat was going to put me in touch with the big and sometimes scary aftermath of breast cancer. Among lots of great activities, I was going to be journaling, remembering, listening and talking. “Seriously,” I heard the little voice argue, “I don’t really need to participate in a retreat. I am going to all of my post-cancer appointments. I see a medical psychologist. I am getting regular massages. I eat well. Isn’t that enough?”
I realized grimly that massages and good food — while beneficial — weren’t going to make my current sense of profound loss any better. Above all else, I had committed to participating in the retreat and I wasn’t going to let fear get in my way. Still, life felt harrowing and out of control at times. I was now going to face those things that I have not had time, energy or guts to confront. Did I have the strength? Was I ready?
I paused to contemplate what fate had doled out over three years: a very painful but necessary divorce; the death of my beloved mother to cancer; my own breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment; followed closely by the death of my light-hearted-turned-heavy-hearted father; an unexpected hysterectomy; and the financial fallout of being self-employed during all of this. I realized I had been holding my breath, waiting for yet another shoe to drop. Maybe the retreat will be a place where I can learn to breathe again, to grieve the agony of all these recent losses, learn to find peace amongst the ashes that somehow had become my life.
Despite the little voice telling me to turn around and go home, I got on that ferry, arrived at the retreat site on Madeline Island and began the scary but somehow familiar way back to my inner self. There, I found hope and peace and consolation in others’ stories. I discovered deeply buried anger, frustration and grief, and yelled and cried and talked it out, purging some of the angst of being different from the woman I used to know. Alongside the other retreat participants, I worked and wended my way through the emotions and held the space for others to do the same. We understood one another, the paths that all of us had been treading, in ways that our loved ones might not. Together we kayaked and walked, created beautiful art projects and flags, listened and hugged. At all moments, I felt safe and completely validated. I gained traction with the new me, the new normal, and — finally — a part of me let go. I truly breathed.
As I wrote in my journal the afternoon after we left the island, “These women helped me with doing the intensive therapy that I needed to unload and unpack my emotional baggage. They bore witness to my transformation and for that we are forever bonded at the heart and soul... I am ready to start the next chapter. I thought I was ready before but I think I was waiting for this to happen.” Fear begins to burn away, replaced with a renewed sense of purpose. The Infinite Boundaries Retreat relit my lightness of being. I am the phoenix rising from the ash.
The stress of life does not stop, and things happen. Regardless, I know that taking time out, retreating to Madeline Island and letting others help me are among the best things I can do for myself.
Just as my friend Megan sponsored me to go on this retreat, you can sponsor a breast cancer survivor that you know to go on this valuable retreat. I am eternally grateful to Megan and those who made it financially possible. It was life-changing!
Help a breast cancer survivor! Tell them about Breast Cancer Recovery today.
Breast Cancer Recovery
2800 Royal Avenue, Suite 210, Madison