Why I volunteer and what it brings me: Stephanie Achten
Friday, October 11, 2019
The best way for me to explain why I volunteer as a group facilitator for the Infinite Boundaries Retreats with Breast Cancer Recovery and what it brings me is to explain why the retreat is so meaningful to the women who attend them.
In order to do this, I would like to share my thoughts and experiences captured in my journal - one of the first gifts given to the women survivors at the retreats - from my first Infinite Boundaries Retreat on Madeline Island in 2013. As many folks know, Madeline Island was a spiritual center of the Lake Superior Chippewa. Interestingly, my husband and I had planned a weekend on Madeline Island right after my cancer diagnosis in 2011 and during that wonderful getaway, he proposed to me! For me personally, between my husband’s proposal and my Infinite Boundaries Retreat with Breast Cancer Recovery, it is indeed a sacred and special island.
On the second day of my Infinite Boundaries Retreat, after one of many insightful and thought provoking activities, I wrote in my journal what I learned about myself from an exercise we had just completed, “I was relieved to share darker and painful stories and feelings out in the open among other women who had similar stories and emotions. I shared these moments and feelings openly and without concern about judgment. I felt relief wash over me and felt brighter and lighter afterwards.” I wrote those words on July 26, 2013 and am a better person for the opportunity to have experienced cancer and afterwards, the privilege to heal with fellow breast cancer survivors on an Infinite Boundaries Retreat.
I am grateful to have had the good fortune to go on my retreat because my mother and sister-in-law both entered my name into a drawing. Honestly, I don’t know that I would have signed up otherwise due to the cost of such an “indulgent” expense. It makes me wonder how many other women feel the same way.
I cannot understate the importance of these retreats. They are healing emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
I embarked on my retreat not knowing a soul in attendance and walked away with a new group of sisters when the weekend drew to a close.
We talk about everything ugly and beautiful (ourselves, our thoughts, etc.) as we heal together.
We listen to music that holds our heart and soul.
We write in our journals about our hopes and fears.
We express ourselves through all kinds of fun art projects.
We spend a lot of time outside because we believe that healing can be found in nature.
We find our inner adventurer and hike, kayak, and zip-line together.
We do yoga and meditate.
We have cooking classes.
We treat ourselves to a spa.
We have the opportunity to talk with all kinds of healers in our community to whole heartedly accept our new “normal.”
We go so very deep with the support of our newfound sisters to consider our “new normal,” share our concerns about body image issues and feeling alone - even though everyone around us wants to help out in any way that they can.
We take time to discuss our lack of confidence to even broach the idea of sex with our partners again…
You get the idea.
It’s vital to our well-being to take this time for ourselves on these retreats in order to move through such a traumatic experience and find the strength to keep living. We need this type of healing for our mind, body, and soul.
My paternal grandmother’s funeral was on the first day of my retreat in 2013. Although I did not have a close relationship with her, I would have liked to be at her funeral. However, on that day, I chose to put myself first and drove almost seven hours to meet a group of breast cancer survivors who also were choosing to put themselves first that weekend.
I volunteer with Breast Cancer Recovery to share in the powerful healing the women who have survived cancer experience during the retreat. Bearing witness to women on their cancer journey fills my soul and, most likely, promotes my own healing. I can only hope, as I listen to their stories and struggles, that the experiences and wisdom I share strengthens their healing as well.