A breast cancer diagnosis is devastating news for any woman to hear. There are so many questions. Patients are left unsure of where life is heading and the outcome. It’s a roller coaster ride. It isn’t something that the patient goes through alone either; it affects the entire family. Spouses and kids are left to worry if Mom will be okay. Life is turned upside down. What used to be a normal Tuesday of going to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, then going home for a family dinner, is gone. It is replaced with doctor’s appointments and specialist visits. Treatments can take all but everything out of a person. It's an immense amount of pressure for a family to go through and it sometimes takes over their life. A simple trip most of us take for granted becomes a distant thought to a cancer patient. It’s hard to imagine escaping the real world for a moment, let alone a week-long vacation.
However, there are dedicated organizations that devote their time to helping families battling cancer do just that: take a vacation.
Who are they?
Little Pink Houses of Hope is one of those places. It is a nonprofit organization that offers a free week of vacation to families fighting breast cancer. Founder Jeanine Patten Coble was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 right before a scheduled family vacation to the beach. While on vacation she struggled with how she would tell her son the news of her diagnosis and decided to go for a run. While contemplating how to handle her own future, she stumbled upon an abandoned compound and her dream began. Right there, she knew she had a calling. An inspiration to all, she was already dreaming of how she could help other people when she hadn’t even told her entire family of her news. Those houses continued to call to her and she made the dream into a reality. A dream to help people like herself reconnect with family after a cancer diagnosis by simply having fun and relaxing. A chance to renew and spend a week immersed in family and fun, the way life was before they were struck with bad news.
The organization has helped over 600 families enjoy free vacations, or retreats as they call it, complete with accommodations, activities, and meals. Each family gets their own house that is fully stocked with food. There are several daily activities to participate in, but these are not required by guests to attend. The activities range based on local donations and have included kayaking, craft classes, and yoga. They even offer things like cooking and babysitting so mom and dad can have date night! Imagine in such a stressful time being able to relax and enjoy family, while having the support needed. They have also started offering couples retreats for spouses to take the time to rejuvenate. Couples that go on these retreats are housed together and able to enjoy their own master suite and bathroom.
Little Pink Houses of Hope started with that one beach compound and has grown to over a dozen locations across the United States. They receive donations of beach houses from generous supporters and will use donations to rent houses if necessary to accommodate their guests. Families are invited to fill out an application on their website to be considered for a retreat. Medical clearance from an Oncologist is required to be considered. LPHOH is able to do their work thanks to generous donations from the public and a staff of volunteers. They have a website with great information (https://www.littlepink.org) and you can make a donation.
What are the benefits?
LPHOH offers families a chance to recover from the daily struggles of a cancer diagnosis. They offer a chance for families who have probably spent months together in a stressful situation to be able to spend quality time together laughing and having fun. An opportunity to boost the mental health of the patient and family. A place for fathers to share their story with other fathers. Kids are able to be kids, playing and supporting each other. Women diagnosed have a chance to share experiences. A chance for friendships to form and many last beyond the vacation.
This type of retreat offers such a valuable and unique experience for families dealing with a cancer diagnosis. A place to have real life face to face conversations with families going through exactly what they are going through. Lifelong bonds are made through these discussions. Sadly, for some, this could be the last vacation and a chance to make lasting memories is so beneficial the family. Facilities like LPHOH bring positivity back into the lives of families affected by such a negative situation.
Why not just go to a five-star hotel?
After getting a breast cancer diagnosis, the last thing on a woman’s mind is breaking out a bathing suit and hitting the beach. Some women tend to be self-conscious at the beach on a good day, so envision being tired and worn out from chemo treatments and radiation. Quite possibly, maybe they are worried about breaking down and having a quick exit unnoticed. Point being, for these women, taking a time out and going to some big Caribbean resort may not exactly be first on the list for many reasons. Having facilities that offer retreats specifically for cancer patients and their families is invaluable.
There are no worries that anyone is going to judge because everyone there understands what they have been through.
Are there more places like LPHOH?
For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation is another nonprofit organization that was set up to assist families with taking a break. They offer expense paid respite vacations in Florida and the Caribbean for cancer patients, caregivers, and their loved ones. The focus is similar to that of Little Pink Houses of Hope. They focus on what they call giving patients a “break from cancer”. It was founded by Marci Schankweiler after her own husband Pete passed away from cancer. In the middle of Pete's treatment, friends sent them on a vacation. Pete's spirits were lifted so much from the trip that he wanted to make sure other people with cancer had the same opportunity. Marci made a promise to Pete and she has kept it. Oncology team members must make the nomination for trips with For Pete’s Sake, you can find all of the information on their website https://takeabreakfromcancer.org.
Another similar organization is called Cruising Against Cancer. This group focuses on families affected by any type of cancer. Families can apply online or be nominated for a cruise. These are not free cruises, but the prices are significantly lower than the average cruise. The real take away here is that it is a cruise that is nothing but families in common who have been affected by cancer. For more information visit http://www.cruisingagainstcancer.com.
There is an extensive list of wish programs you can find at cancer.net. These programs are for children, adults, and families suffering from a chronic or advanced condition. There are programs that range from outdoor adventures to fly fishing and amusement parks.