By Christopher Stewart
While you have cancer, you are alive, but not truly living. Many people with cancer simply forget how to live.
Retreat Yourself BC didn’t just teach me how to smile and laugh, it reminded me how to live again. How to learn from others and respect myself and my new friends’ journeys in a way I never thought I could.
For me, it all started before it actually started. I went to the airport with an ID that had actually expired 15 days beforehand, which I did not realize until I showed up at the Edmonton airport. Empty-handed, I rebooked a flight which WestJet actually covered and I flew out. It felt freeing and exciting to leave the city for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous (everyone was), but finally some change was happening. What type of change? I guess I had to wait to find out.
What made this journey so much easier was the financial support that YACC gave not only to me, but to all the other survivors who needed it.
I had missed the shuttle bus to the retreat centre due to my rescheduled flight, so I gave Geoff a call and he said Genevieve, a facilitator, would be waiting there to pick me up. She drove an hour an a half from Abbotsford to Vancouver for me, and I hadn’t even met her before. Once she arrived, the first thing I noticed was how genuine her smile was. If it weren’t for Genevieve, I would not have been able to experience the retreat. The drive to Edenvale was great; there was no snow (unlike Edmonton), and there was a lot of conversation along the way.
Once we arrived, I got my first look at the house. It was awesome. The house looked warm and inviting, which was convenient. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the Vancouver rain.
Once inside, I felt the warmth. Not the warmth of the house (although it was toasty), nope, I felt the warmth of the people there. I could hear their laughter and feel the positivity bouncing off of them. It was like a rave of happiness. Then I turned the corner and saw my buddies, Gerard and Jody. Damn, I was happy to see them because I knew nobody. Well, not yet. But that would soon change.
I walked in to many introductions and learned as many names as I could. Due to treatment-related brain fog, this would be a problem for me, but everyone had name tags so it was so much easier.
Each day opened with a topic; one of them was relationships. I had previously felt so isolated and alone and like nobody understood me, but when others cried sharing their struggles, it felt like a wake up call. “I’m not the only one.” It was so hard to see everyone struggle. But so therapeutic to let all the shit out that was haunting us.
Genevieve would later do a guided meditation with the group. It was perfect. I felt like one of those ’60s hippies with not a care in the world. I was spiritually at ease and, my god, it was relaxing. It allowed us to follow her voice and let go of all the shit that was bogging us down.
With a running kitchen in the house, the food was great — especially the turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. It was so good and none of us ever complained about being hungry.
We also played games, and let me tell you, playing Cards Against Humanity with a bunch of 30- to 40-year-old women is mind blowing. These women held nothing back and I couldn’t win a single round. I didn’t know if I was proud or terrified, but I sure was laughing my ass off.
The jokes continued all the way up to the rooms where we would part ways and go to sleep, but it all continued when we woke up. We cried tears of laughter and tears of pain. We sang together like dumbasses while talking in our rooms and playing music.
The hardest part was leaving to go home. I had all these new friends and I didn’t want to say goodbye. There were tears and hugs — at least I knew some others going back to Edmonton, but it still didn’t take away the pain of saying goodbye.
I had so many new friends after the retreat, and I want nothing more than to experience this all over again.
We’re so excited Chris and his buds had a transformative four-day experience at Retreat Yourself BC in December! Every cancer, every stage, YACC has your back, but we couldn’t do that without the help of our awesome donors, sponsors, and supporters! Special thank you to Texas 4000 for Cancer!