Retreats are now available specifically for patients like you who are dealing with stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. Johns Hopkins University, where I work, has been offering these retreats for more than a decade.
We hold 2 retreats every year—one for couples, in which the patients bring their spouse or partner; the other is for women who are not in a relationship, and they bring their female caregiver—usually this person is their sister, daughter, or mom.
These retreats last 3 days and 2 nights, and they are free for anyone to attend. We don’t limit our retreats to only patients who are being treated at Johns Hopkins. Half of those who are attending a retreat travel from nearby locations, or even from across the country, to be there. The attendees just need to provide their transportation to get there and back.
As a result of creating a program planning guide specifically designed to help our other breast cancer centers to replicate these programs, today other retreats that are offered by other centers are taking place across the country. Some are just 1-day programs, and others may last 2 days.
In addition, some centers that are ready to do the full program replication have embarked on providing our 3-day programs.
So what happens at these events? The content of each retreat can vary, depending on where it is held and who is conducting it, but one of the most important things about a retreat is the opportunity to spend time and network with others who are in the same situation as yourself.
Spouses want to talk behind closed doors with other spouses. Patients, too, want to talk just with fellow warriors who are dealing with the same disease.
How far along the cancer progression each patient is varies, of course, as do prognostic factors of the tumor itself, and the treatments that patients are receiving, but everyone has the same underlying issues and concerns.
A Different Experience
When such a retreat is done well, it is held at a place away from where you have received any of your treatments. It is a peaceful place, a quiet space. It has private rooms for sleeping, and no television, no radio, and no distractions. It also has focused time for respite.
Many lessons get learned during the retreat, some actually from one another. At various points in time, you and other attendees will have some “aha” moments, which are wonderful.
Portions of the program are also specifically designed to enable you and your loved one to escape breast cancer for at least a 2-hour stretch and literally not have it enter your head. (I won’t spoil the surprise of how that is accomplished, though.)
At most of these retreats, a researcher or a medical oncologist attends for an hour or so to discuss what is happening in the form of cutting-edge research, what new clinical trials are opening that you may be a candidate for, and how to access them, as well as time to literally get your personal questions answered about your medical situation.
There is dedicated time to discuss what worries you the most, what you are hoping for, what brings you the greatest joy, and how to gain some control over your life at a time when you feel everything is so uncertain.
The feedback we have received from patients in the past decade has been heartfelt and profound. When I created these retreats more than a decade ago, I had no idea of the kind of real impact they would have on the lives of those who attend them.
Our retreats are held at Bon Secours Spiritual Center, outside of Baltimore, and far away from any infusion centers or doctors‘ offices—the place offers 360 acres of serenity, and it is worth traveling for to have such an experience.
We just need to feel confident that you are well enough to join us for that length of time.
How to Get Started
- You can now attend one of several retreats across the country that are specifically for those with metastatic breast cancer
- Ask your breast center treatment team if they offer retreats for patients with metastatic breast cancer
- A good retreat will be held at a place away from where you received your treatments and will offer a peaceful place
- The content of each retreat can vary, depending on where it is held and who is conducting it, but they all offer the opportunity to connect with others who are in your situation
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Metastatic Breast Cancer Network