As women, we are constantly juggling the responsibilities of our home, work, and personal lives. Just when you’ve reached your capacity, a life-altering diagnosis could stop you in your tracks. Cancer.
Your body is screaming for your attention. Your health needs your devotion now more than ever, but there are so many other responsibilities vying for your attention. You think: “I don’t have time for cancer.”
Hit the Pause Button
Where can you go to hit the pause button when you are faced with a cancer diagnosis? In January 2009, Michele Gannon was home with the flu. Having 3 small children, she could not rest without them poking and prodding, “Are you better? Can you get up? When are you going to do what you usually do?”
That experience sparked a thought in Michele. She remembers saying to her husband, “I wonder what a woman does when she has a long-term illness, like cancer. Where does she go to get away from her responsibilities and hit the pause button? How does she focus on her own healing?” This was the seed that would grow into Mary’s Place by the Sea.
Michele shared her idea with her friend and fellow mom, Maria McKeon. “I have this idea, but I’m not sure it makes sense. I’m not sure if anyone will come,” she said. Without hesitation, Maria replied, “I’ll do it with you.”
Michele and Maria became co-founders of Mary’s Place by the Sea. This respite home first opened its doors in 2009: 2 rooms were rented at a lovely Bed and Breakfast on Ocean Avenue in Ocean Grove, NJ.
The mission of Mary’s Place by the Sea was simple: to provide a place where women with cancer could come and take a deep breath, share challenges and experiences, and focus on their own healing.
The response was immediate. Over the course of the next year, more women with cancer wanted to stay than we were able to accommodate.
Now, 8.5 years later, Mary’s Place by the Sea has opened its doors as a custom-built, state-of-the-art, 10-bedroom home, just a block from the beach in Ocean Grove. Since its founding, more than 8,000 women have visited Mary’s Place from across the nation, and beyond.
Radiation, chemotherapy, surgeries, and medications all play an important role in the cancer journey, as well as take their toll. Although these medical treatments deal with the physical healing of the person, true healing treats the mind, body, and soul. Women with cancer need the opportunity to take a pause and start the healing process.
Our guests can stretch and rejuvenate their bodies with gentle yoga; they are given the opportunity to process and work through deep-rooted feelings with individual counseling or through expressive writing.
Guided imagery, meditation, and prayer can help them experience harmony between mind and soul. Oncology massage and Reiki help to alleviate stress and anxiety. Guests are nourished with plant-based meals that help them combat fatigue, and slow and stop nausea.
The calming, coastal setting of the home allows guests to take a deep, cleansing breath. Mary’s Place by the Sea treats the whole person.
Some women find Mary’s Place right away, in search of respite. Others may call us a year after treatment, having gone into survival mode and realizing they need to speak with someone about their experience. Our staff, volunteers, and practitioners are there to catch them when they fall. Guests become active participants in their own healing, while being surrounded by other women on the same path.
Our guests can visit for just a few hours to receive services such as massage, Reiki, or counseling, and enjoy a delicious meal in the company of other women with cancer. In addition, many women choose to stay for 2 nights, to experience a true respite. The integrative services we offer at Mary’s Place complement the guests’ medical treatment, and are provided at no cost to them.
A House Built on Love
Since our beginning in 2009, we have been overwhelmed by the response of our local community; they’ve embraced our mission, and through their generosity have made it possible for us to build our new home for women with cancer, and welcome more guests than ever before.
The organization relies on the financial support of individual donors, corporate organizations, and third-party fundraising events, which allow us to continue to provide this respite at no cost to the guests. Mary’s Place is built and exists on love.
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