IBR Alumni: Evi's Story
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
My Infinite Boundaries Experience*
By Evi Hungerford
I was diagnosed at age 46 with stage 2 aggressive, invasive breast cancer. Today I am an 18-year survivor.
I’m sure you’ve heard how difficult it is when one is diagnosed with CANCER. You’ve probably heard tales about the emotional stress and the trauma. I can tell you that this was, without a doubt, one of the most difficult times in my life.
But I want to tell you what made it a positive, life-changing experience for me. I had the opportunity to attend a Breast Cancer Recovery (BCR) Infinite Boundaries retreat in September 2000, and it was one of the best gifts I could have given myself.
BCR’s mission is to provide retreats and other programs with a focus on women’s whole healing from breast cancer – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Their Infinite Boundaries program is a wellness retreat for that very purpose – for physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
One of the earliest activities at retreat was to keep a journal. They gave each participant a journal, and at the end of each session, encouraged us to write in our journals. Here’s what I wrote on my first day there:
“I am at a breast cancer retreat on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. There are 14 women attending the retreat and 6 staff. What a beautiful island, and what beautiful souls all these women have. We are sharing our hearts, emotions, pains, fears and hopes.”
It amazed me how quickly I felt comfortable with all of these ladies. We talked about difficult issues, we laughed, we cried, we hugged, and we drew strength from each other. I found it very encouraging to meet so many others who had gone through breast cancer, and who were 5-year, 10-year,and even 15-year survivors.
Perhaps this journal entry will give you a glimpse of how I felt:
“Coming to breakfast this morning was like joining my friends for coffee. The atmosphere was shining as brightly as the sun. I can’t believe that in only 1½ days, these ladies have become as dear to me as old friends. Vicki calls it “sisters of the heart” – it’s so true. My heart is so full this morning.”
Infinite Boundaries retreats encourage breast cancer survivors to overcome some of the limitations they may have set for themselves on a variety of levels. As an overweight person, my limits tended to be physical. At the retreat, we were introduced to: Physical exploration: interesting physical activities – kayaking, tai chi, dance, and hiking with a Naturalist. These physical activities are intended to restore or build new confidence in one’s body.
We were offered the opportunity to go kayaking that weekend. As I told my new friends, and maybe some of you can relate to this, there is no way I’m getting into a kayak. Because of my overweight, I’d get stuck, the kayak would turn over, and I would drown. Well, who would have guessed it …this is me - in a kayak – in the water! Obviously I didn’t drown. And the feeling of accomplishment in overcoming that fear amazes me still today.
Another program at the retreat offered was creative exploration – mask-painting, Native American beading, creating prayer flags and more. I tried my hand at making a prayer flag and the mask painting. Several of the women learned to make bead earrings. In fact, Donna enjoyed it so much that she’s now crafting bead earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
I was so impressed by the staff at the retreat. You see, Infinite Boundaries uses previous retreatants - other breast cancer survivors - as team members. We were able to relate to them because they’d been there and done that too. They were not outsiders, and they helped us lower our barriers, share our concerns, and learn from each other.
So here we were on this beautiful island, seemingly isolated from outside influences, communing with nature in one of the most gorgeous months of the year, being totally pampered.
The journaling, kayaking, music, nature walks, art projects, and the interpersonal bonds contributed to the feeling of wellness on all levels: body, mind and spirit.
It was such a restorative to me. I found peace, I found acceptance, and I found strength. I also found I was able once again to look to the future with confidence and optimism.
I received another benefit from Infinite Boundaries that I didn’t expect. At the retreat, I made several, lifetime friends. Six months later we got together for one of BCR’s winter programs and stayed the night at a hotel. We talked most of the night and reluctantly parted the next day.
During my cancer treatments, I met so many women who could have benefited from this wellness experience for their bodies, minds and spirits. This experience meant so much to me – it did so much for me! As soon as I was physically able, I started volunteering for BCR. I want to help others go on these retreats. I believe that mental attitude plays such a big part in both physical and mental health, and Infinite Boundaries helps in so many so many ways.
On my one-year anniversary of my diagnosis, I tried to capture a little of what that first year was like, and I’d like to share my journal entry with you:
“It’s been one year today since that first fateful surgery, the one that showed the lump was cancerous. It’s amazing to realize a whole year has gone by. In just 366 days, I’ve had:
- two surgeries,
- 16 chemo treatments,
- 25 radiation treatments,
- 4 different doctors (physician, surgeon, oncologist and radiation oncologist),
- doctor appointments every 3weeks (or less) for 9 months, and
- I’ve taken more pills than I’ve ever taken before in my life.
I’ve lost my hair, regained my hair, permanently damaged my toenails, scarred my left arm from IVs, and lost 50 pounds.
- traveled to Calgary Canada for my daughter’s marching band,
- toured the Grand Canyon where my son worked for the summer,
- gone on retreat to Madeline Island,
- bought a red Jeep,
- made many new friends, and
- gained a new appreciation for living.
I’ve learned how much my family and friends mean to me, and how little the material things matter. I’ve grown closer to God, closer to my husband, closer to my children.
I am so grateful to be a one-year survivor. Although I almost always was sure of a positive outcome, there were - and still are - days when I get scared. But I have so much to be thankful for! And life is so much more precious – every sunrise, every flower, every snowflake, every moment with my loved ones – that I could just burst from all the love storing up inside me!”
Perhaps it was Infinite Boundaries, or perhaps it was the specter of cancer itself, or both, that made me realize the unpredictability of life and to evaluate my future. It took several years and lots of courage, but I made a huge life-changing move. I left the safe, corporate 9-5 world and did something I’d wanted to do for over 20 years … I became a Realtor. Now I help young people find their first homes, or seniors find their retirement homes, or anything in between, and I LOVE it! I wish I’d had the courage to do this sooner.
To those of you who support Breast Cancer Recovery, I offer my heartfelt thanks. You helped make Infinite Boundaries possible for me and for many women. And because of this, maybe we’re just a little more sane – a little more spiritually healthy - than we were before. Thank you so much for supporting this wonderful cause. Thank you for helping us.
And if you have or had breast cancer, and you haven’t experienced Infinite Boundaries yet, what’s holding you back? It’s time to take care of you. Give yourself this gift; you deserve it.
(*Updated speech Evi gave to promote BCR to sponsors in 2001)