March 2020: Volunteer Profile
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Posted by: Megan Purtell
Meet Sarah Adams: Madeline Island Retreatant
I am grateful for the Breast Cancer Recovery Infinite Boundaries Retreats. I volunteer to give back to this wonderful organization that facilitated my healing and to pay it forward to other survivors. My first visit to Madeline Island was in 2011 with my aunt and uncle as they swam the 2-mile Point to LaPointe swim race. When I learned about the Infinite Boundaries Retreat on Madeline Island, I knew immediately there was no better location to begin my healing.
Two of my favorite sayings are, “When you can tell your story and it doesn’t make you cry, you know you have healed” Unknown, and “I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the flames” Stephanie Sparkles. For me, these two sayings symbolize the emotional and spiritual healing and judgement free encouragement offered by the BCR staff, retreat volunteers, and women who attend Infinite Boundaries Retreats.
I remember one of my biggest fears about my retreat was showing emotion in front of strangers. During treatment, I was the happy cancer patient who always wanted to put a smile on the faces of my doctors and nurses and convince them I was going to be okay. As a result, I never truly let myself acknowledge the emotions associated with cancer, especially as a young survivor diagnosed at 38. I was so overwhelmed and raw with emotion when I arrived at my retreat in 2015 at Madeline Island, that I couldn’t find my voice the first night during introductions. I sat in a circle of 12 other women and listened to their stories of how cancer changed their lives, with tears streaming down my face. Some of the women were married, some of the women were single. Some women had children (of varying ages), while others admitted they would likely never have an opportunity to have biological children. However, the commonality among all of us that night was our understanding of each other on a level that only those who have experienced a cancer diagnosis are able. It was a safe space to share the pain, fear, anger and guilt we had arrived with, and a chance to talk freely about changes to our lives and even our bodies that affected intimacy in relationships from treatment related side effects and surgically altered body parts. Being with women who understand and allow you to find your voice without judgment is powerful. I remember being unable to say out loud, I have breast cancer. By the end of the retreat, I was able to say those words and I had a better understanding of my feelings, which allowed me to cope with the emotions that overwhelmed me.
The unique curriculum of the Infinite Boundaries Retreats offers discussion sessions, physical activities, creative activities, and free time for women to bond or meditate. Discussion sessions cover difficult topics such as feelings of anger, fear and survivors guilt, and allow women to discuss their feelings about treatment related side effects that often impact intimacy and body image. Physical activities may include kayaking, hiking or yoga, and the creative activities range from art therapy to cooking classes.
The most important and rewarding aspect of volunteering at the Infinite Boundaries Retreats for me is the opportunity to learn from the other women through their stories and the long lasting friendships that form as a result. I learn so much from every retreat I attend and hope I can pass on that knowledge.