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Updated: Sep 29, 2020

As we drive back across the country to Michigan I reflect on our week from Little Pink Houses of Hope (LPHOH).

When I filled out the application I did not know what I was signing up for. In reality a free vacation sounded fun and too good to pass up. I really did not think we would be selected. I typically don’t win the things that I sign up for. In all honesty I don’t win because I don’t sign up for anything. I worry it is a gimmick or a scam. But with my stage four diagnosis I have decided to say yes more. Ironically, this was one of three things that I had applied for in October. Torrid everyday model, no reply. To be an advocate for Living Beyond Breast Cancer, was sent an email of not being selected. Each week I received a denial. I would think, okay, that was not meant to be. I really wanted to be an advocate so that was a hard email to receive.  Then came the email from LPHOH.  I could not believe our luck!  We were selected!!! It is almost the same dates as the LBBC conference so it was a very good thing I was not chosen.  All in God’s timing. When I received the email skepticism set in, I thought, hmmm, is this for real?  Is this sketchy?  What is the gimmick? There were not a ton of details. But I trusted in the process and googled the organization and felt that it was legit. As the weeks went by and the date drew closer each step of the process was perfect and delightful. Just what we needed as a family. 

A phone volunteer called to take our breakfast order.  What??? Yes, they stocked the house that we stayed at for the week with our favorite food items.  Perfect little touches.  The volunteer that called me was from Detroit and also had stage 4 breast cancer.  We chatted for a long time and found we had many things in common. Crazy how things like that can line up. God winks. When we arrived I was not sure how much we would participate in the planned events. I wanted to spend time with my family and relax. I am not great at small talk. I was concerned with hanging out with other breast cancer women that were earlier stages.  Would I scare them? Would I feel envious and sadden by their survivor stories?  I think I harden my heart to just be cool, aloof. As we pulled into the camp ground there were many people standing around with pink shirts on and huge smiles. When we got out of the van we had so many hugs, smiles and feelings of love.  Wow!  The spirit among this amazing group of people was awesome.  My heart melted and I just knew it was going to be a good week!

Each family is assigned a VolunSTAR. They are there to make sure that all your needs are met. All the people we met volunteer their time.  They have to use their own money to get to the retreat and use their own vacation time to assist in the event.  That is how important the mission of LPHOH is to these wonderful people. As our kids were older our VolunSTAR was not utilized as much as others but I heard other VolunSTARS took the little kids putt putt golfing so that the mom could get a nap.  It was these little touches that meant so much. Each event the VolunSTARS arrive early, set up signage and waited for us to arrive.  There was always a sea of pink full of welcoming smiles at each event. I don't know why, but this was one of my favorite parts.

LPHOH had a wonderful formula of fun and relaxation; it was all very intentional. The meals were home cooked from area churches that felt a calling to support this retreat.  Each meal was decorated so beautifully and there was always something fun for the kids to do so they were never bored.  I think I received more swag than I could possible carry on a plane.  Thank goodness we drove. But it was more than about the stuff. It was a feeling or community that I can't capture in words.

On the last night we all received beautiful quilts that were handmade and prayed over by a group of lovely ladies from an area church. Mine will be going with me on my every three week infusions. Battle armor activate! The kids made fast friends. Everyone got along so well. We had a women’s coffee talk morning where we all shared our cancer stories.  We laughed and cried and connected on a very personal level.  Something about meeting other women battling the beast is comforting and rejuvenating and for a week I did not feel so isolated. Everyone got it. The pain, the fatigue, the chemo brain.  There were no expectations and no judgement.  To not think about work.  To not think about what to do for the day.  To not think about what to eat. To not think about cooking and cleaning.  To not think about cancer......... To not think.........  That was a huge blessing.

In this lack of thinking it allowed me to be present and enjoy every moment.  We had four swans visit every morning and I enjoyed taking my coffee outside and seeing the swans. It was these little things. Being able to breathe and just be. "Live stronger, laugh harder and love deeper." That is the LPHOH philosophy. They truly mean it.  They just wanted all of us to be happy. For the vacation to be exactly what we needed as a family.  Whether that be participating in events or going off doing our own thing.  The prayers and love that surrounded us for the week was invigorating and uplifting.

This was so much more than a vacation. I was having trouble putting the experience into words. Last night I read the founder of LPHOH's, Jeanine Patten-Coble's, book: Struck by Hope. Now reading about her vision in hind sight I can see what made the retreat a unique and special experience. The VolunSTARS were ridiculously present, loving on us. Which provided me an example to be present for my family and love on them. On a side note, Jeanine's book is amazing and authentic. It puts life into perspective. My epiphany's is coming soon. I need to be still and see what God is asking me to do. I pray that I remain healthy and NEAD so that I can volunteer for LPHOH and give back to this great organization.  I would love to surround a group of women and their families, helping them feel the love I felt and get their feet back underneath them so they can go home and live their best life. Being ridiculously present. 

That is what LPHOH did for me. A week of rest, fun and love. A time to regroup and reenergize and get ready to live my best life. A month later as I finish up this post I can say that this retreat has had a lasting impact on my family and me. Thank you LPHOH!! Please check out their website. If you are a breast cancer patient I urge you to apply for a retreat. If you are feeling called, LPHOH has opportunities for you to donate your time, talent or money. This is a great organization to support. I have heard they are trying to start a retreat in Grand Haven, Michigan.  Exciting times!

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