As I waited for my flight to take off for San Francisco, I wasn't totally sure what to expect. I was so excited to be chosen to attend A Fresh Chapter's Refresh Experience for Cancer Advocates. However, I was feeling a little nervous about walking into a group of strangers. We were going to be spending the next five days and nights together sharing our cancer stories, as well as sharing the ups and downs of our experiences in cancer advocacy.
One of the first activities we did together was volunteering as a group at Glide, an organization that provides three nutritious meals a day to San Francisco's poor, homeless and hungry. I have had opportunities to help serve food to others, but nothing to this magnitude. We fed 459 individuals that afternoon. This experience removed me from my comfort zone and placed me into a world I had only really heard about. Too often, we get caught up in our own struggles, and forget the struggles of our neighbors. My job was bussing tables and keeping water pitchers full. I kept feeling like I should start a conversation with someone but found myself always at a loss for words except...Hello. Can I help you carry that for you? Have a good afternoon. But I figured out that it isn't necessarily what you say. I held a clear bag for an elderly woman as she put every last morsel of food on her plate into it. No words exchanged. But when she was finished filling the bag, she looked up and smiled at me. A smile that spoke a million words. I found that one act that shows you care can have an impact on someone and change the way you are perceived.
Hours later, Drumm Rhythmic Events provided our group with a facilitated drum circle. As I walked into the room, I felt a childlike excitement. You wouldn't believe what a great stress relief it is to beat on a drum! Our drum leader was spectacular at teaching us rhythm that we could do as a group. We actually sounded good. More importantly, we felt good. As I looked around the circle, everyone was smiling and laughing as they beat their drums. What an amazing way to make a room of strangers feel so connected as we beat to the same rhythm.
Days 2-4 we spent at the Ralston White Retreat Center in Mill Valley. This beautiful 14,000 square foot home was the perfect place for me to face questions like What do I need to let go of? What do I need to hold on to? What do I need to embrace and let come? Nestled among the Red Woods we shared personal stories of our own advocacy, cancer, loss, fears, hopes, goals for the future. I loved this tranquil setting where I could take time to reflect while walking or sitting on the veranda or laying on the lawn. It in these moments that I found such peace, realizing how badly I had needed this retreat. I was able to face some of my brokenness and think about ways to heal and ways to continue to grow from it. What I also found was a group of incredible individuals who really listened to one another showing no judgement...just unconditional love and caring.
The last leg of our trip was at Asolimar Conference Center in Pacific Grove. Although it was chilly and cloudy on the beach, this became the place where we let it all go for a while...laughing, sharing photos of loved ones, and sharing fun stories before our closing circle the next day. All I will say about our closing circle is that I was one of the most emotional things I have experienced...and one of the most beautiful. I wish I had a picture of me with each person because they each shared a special moment with me, but here a few that I did get at Asilomar.
So what did I walk away with? What I found in San Francisco were 13 amazing cancer advocates with incredible stories of strength and compassion...2 men, 11 women, and 2 fearless leaders to walk us through five days of relationship building, personal development, networking and collaboration, volunteer recruitment, and a much needed opportunity to reflect and recharge. A Fresh Chapter gave us an experience of a lifetime, a tribe of new friendships and confidents, new perspectives on our work in cancer advocacy as well as new perspectives on our lives. This experience was a blessing and a gift to my life, and I look forward to using the personal development and tools that I learned.
Thank you Terri and Janet for facilitating and loving us through this amazing opportunity!
A Fresh Chapter (AFC) is a non-profit offering U.S. and International volunteer travel experiences to cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers to help them heal the emotional scars of cancer while serving others - and in the process, reclaim their lives. To learn more about A Fresh Chapter, visit the links below. Terri Wingham created this organization in 2012 to provides a fresh forum for addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of cancer. AFC now offers programs in Costa Rica, India, Peru, South Africa, and the U.S. To learn more, visit https://afreshchapter.com/
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