ReFresh: a retreat for cancer support organisations

In this post, Shine Director Ceinwen writes about her experience of visiting US cancer charity A Fresh Chapter.


At the start of April this year, I found myself nervously crossing a yellow line in the carpet at San Francisco International Airport, ready to present my passport to a border guard. As he looked through the pages of my passport, he asked what brought me to the US.

“I’m attending a retreat for people who work in cancer support organisations,” I told him.

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Shine Director, Ceinwen

He paused for a minute – always a nerve-wracking moment at the border, especially these days – and then asked me if I’d experienced cancer personally.  I explained to him that I’d had non-Hodgkin lymphoma nine years ago but that I was doing well now.  He paused again, stamped my passport and told me that he would ‘thank God’ for my health. And then he sent me on my way. It was not at all the grilling I was expecting, and that pretty much set the scene for the rest of my week in California!

What brought me to California in the first place was being selected to join A Fresh Chapter’s ReFresh Retreat for Leaders. A Fresh Chapter is a US charity that combines volunteering in the US and internationally with the aims of reframing adversity, fostering connections, and promoting personal growth and development. Their ReFresh retreat is unique in that it aims to provide support to ‘cancer advocates’ – the people who work in cancer care and support – and to give them time and space to reflect on their work, develop new leadership skills, and gain fresh perspectives.

When I heard about ReFresh from a friend of mine, I knew that I wanted to go. I love my work at Shine and have worked hard for the last seven years, but it’s not always easy. Having experienced the death of more than a few of our Shiny people over the years, I thought it was probably a good time to take a short break.

It’s pretty hard to summarise a five-day retreat. We covered a huge amount of ground, worked with a heap of different tools, and had some much-needed time for reflection. Having said that, a few things have really stuck with me and I thought I’d share them here.

The value of gratitude

This is very un-British (in fact, the entire retreat was pretty free from both British irony and sarcasm – but in a good way!), but we spent quite a bit of time at the retreat thinking about gratitude and how we recognise it. On the second day of the retreat, we woke up early and headed to Glide, a charity that feeds the homeless in San Francisco. We spent a few hours cooking and serving food to Glide’s clients. Homelessness is a huge issue in San Francisco and one of the things that had struck me in my wanderings in the city was that so many of the people on the streets were not only homeless but also very clearly

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San Francisco – a gorgeous city, but with a huge homeless population.

physically or mentally ill (or both). If you’re ever looking to feel grateful about the NHS, bearing witness to sick people living on the streets is a pretty good reminder of why we need to fight to keep the NHS working.

I also came out of my experience at Glide grateful that I hadn’t taken up a job in catering: while I was smugly chopping onions for a tuna salad, the knife slipped and I cut my thumb open. ‘You’re OFF THE KNIVES!’ yelled Bobby, one of the managers, in a very good-natured way. He then had me dip chicken breasts into breadcrumbs for chicken parmigiana – a task that involved absolutely no sharp objects! Working at Glide was also a good reminder of how we can connect to people with vastly different experiences to us. As we were sweating in the kitchen, my ReFresh buddies and I were often interrupted by Glide clients who wanted to share a joke or two. Given the huge societal divides we’re experiencing in both the US and the UK, it felt pretty good just to be able to laugh with others, human to human. And I felt grateful.

Holding space

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This house in Marin County was the perfect venue for a retreat.

I know that listening is important. I’ve done training in coaching and facilitation, and have been taught in numerous different ways about the value of listening. But when I’m busy, I forget. I lose my curiosity and stop listening because I feel like I’m short on time and I have stuff to do. One of the best things about the retreat was having the chance to speak less and sit back and listen, and also to retrain myself in the art of being curious – in other words, to hold and create the space for others to tell their stories. On the first day we were reminded that we didn’t always need to dive into our ‘mental filing cabinets’ to find a story or anecdote equivalent to the one being shared by someone else. Sometimes it’s enough to sit, listen, ask the odd question or even be silent. Everyone on the retreat had had their own experiences of cancer, but they were also hugely interesting people. By trying hard to listen, I feel like I learned a lot more than I might otherwise have done in five short days.

It’s easier to do than to feel

We heard lots of words of wisdom while we were away, but this one sentence really stuck with me. I like being busy, but lately I’ve been piling things up without giving myself time to think or feel. Part of this, I realised, is because letting myself feel means that I have to let myself feel sad about friends I’ve lost over the years – amazing, spirited, and funny people who made life better for everyone. Cancer, like any major illness, is unfair and quite frankly, I don’t like thinking about its unfairness.  However, this approach also means I don’t get to think about all the good times I’ve had with my missing friends, and it also means that I exhaust myself. My boom/bust cycle could use an overhaul so I’m hoping the rest of this year might be slightly more relaxed. We’ll see…!

Perhaps the most valuable thing for me though was spending five days reminding myself that, in these troubled times, the world is still full of good people. Sometimes it can feel like cancer takes up a lot of space in my life, and although everyone on the retreat either had had cancer or worked in cancer support, we spent a lot of time talking about other things and I learned a ton! Almost as valuable as the Fresh Chapter tools were the conversations I had about everything from women’s cycling and how to save yourself from a mountain lion attack, to why sloths sometimes visit libraries in the Midwest and how to make balloon astronauts.

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With (on!) some of my retreat buddies.

And finally: it was a real treat for me to be at an event that I wasn’t organising! If the schedule was running late, or the food wasn’t quite right, I felt relieved that I didn’t have to deal with it (and huge thanks to Terri, Janet, and Dana who did have to deal with it all)! As a tiny charity, Shine runs a large number of events and that means that we’re often simultaneously facilitating discussions on serious topics while worrying whether the food order will arrive in time for lunch. Having a break from the everyday, and a chance to think about how the tools used by a Fresh Chapter could be applied to the UK, was really valuable. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

If you’re working in cancer support or are coping with cancer yourself, make sure to check out A Fresh Chapter’s programmes!

 

Shine’s Northern Retreat

Hi everyone, I’m Rosie, and I’m the newest member of staff here at Shine HQ.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2016 and after following the usual treatment route of surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, I now have ongoing maintenance treatment every 3 weeks.  This is because the docs think that, at one point, the cancer spread to my spine, although currently I have no active disease.

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At work in the Shine office

A close friend of mine told me all about Shine at the very beginning of my treatment and as soon as I went to my first Shine event, I was hooked! I decided very early on that if the opportunity to work for them ever came up then I was definitely going to apply! I took on a volunteer role of jointly running the Dorset network and then, last June, I managed to make it back to the second year of my social work degree at Bournemouth University.  I was super lucky that I was able to choose my placement and so, of course, I chose Shine! However, around Christmas time that I re-evaluated the route that I was taking; trying to keep up with academic work around my treatment, while also coping with fatigue, was proving troublesome. The degree no longer felt so relevant now that I had new priorities: mainly staying alive, enjoying the time I have left (however long that might be!) and giving back to the community.  As a result, I made the hard decision to leave uni and instantly felt much better! Then in January of this year, (very serendipitously!) an opening at Shine appeared that was perfect for me: part-time hours and the opportunity to get involved with all the fab work that Shine does. I applied, and the rest, as they say, is history!

One of my first jobs was to help out Hannah (who runs Shine’s Manchester network), to staff Shine’s annual North Retreat in early March.  Shine’s retreats give attendees the opportunity to have a break from the stresses of living with cancer while also getting to know others in a similar situation.  

Ten of us settled into a spacious and comfy farmhouse that we had hired for a weekend, in a small village not far from York. Everyone was free to do as little or as much as they liked throughout the weekend. The only thing that we asked was for everyone to muck in a little bit (if they were able) with the cooking and tidying up.  If our Tesco delivery was anything to go by, we knew that we definitely weren’t going to go hungry!

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Tesco delivery!

Once everyone had found their rooms, we all settled in and got to know each other over a lovely home-cooked spag bol.  Some people had been to Shine events before and knew a couple of members of the group, but for others this was the first Shine event that they had attended.  Everyone understandably had some anxieties about spending the weekend with new people, however that soon dissipated when we realised that we were all in the same boat.  

On Saturday, most of us braved the British weather and headed off to the local market town of Beverley for a bit of an explore around the shops and market stalls, and we also grabbed a bite to eat while we were out.   Afterwards, we headed back to the house to either rest, play games, or go for a wander in the surrounding grounds. At this point we were also joined by the lovely Rachel (who used to volunteer to run the north East network)! pasted image 0 (5)

Once we had spent some time catching up, it was time to jump in some taxis and head out for a lovely dinner in the local village pub.

Sunday was again a relaxed affair. Some of us stayed at the house to play games, while others went off for a walk.  The walking route ended up being a bit longer than anticipated but everyone ended up safely back at the house in time for a home-cooked roast dinner before half of the attendees packed up and made their way home.

On the final night, those of us who were left had some drinks and played some more games….Cards Against Humanity anyone?!

The next day, we were all sad to leave because it had been such an awesome experience! Those who had come not knowing anyone now no longer feel quite so isolated (especially as we have an active WhatsApp group to stay in touch) and the general consensus from everyone was that they would definitely recommend our retreats to other Shinies!

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Pub!

On that note, the next retreat that we have planned is in Dorset from 17th to 20th May!  If you are interested in finding out more, please drop me an email to find out more (rosie@shinecancersupport.org)!

Shine takes cancer support to Yorkshire!

Linz was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer and the BRCA1 gene just after turning 38, and she’s passionate about bringing people together to help deal with cancer. In this post, she writes about her first Shine event: a weekend away with Shine North East in the Yorkshire Dales.


The weekend was full of promise: I was coming to this event as a newbie, all the way from Edinburgh to gate-crash a weekend of ‘folk like me’. The setting was a lovely holiday home called Springwood Cottage near Huddersfield, and the background music was the soundtrack from ‘The Greatest Showman’. The idea was simply for a group of young adults with cancer to share a cottage for the weekend: no plans, no itinerary, no rules, and no barriers.  All just pitch up, pitch in, and enjoy ourselves.

I had come across Shine Cancer Support only a few months previously, just by doing a search on Facebook.  I am a member of various cancer support groups on Facebook and Twitter, but aside from a lovely lunch ‘tweet up’ in Manchester a few months back, I had not actually engaged much with other people going through cancer treatment. There certainly isn’t much for us ‘in-betweeners’ aged 20-50. Talking to people online is great but meeting up in person is so much better! In total there were going to be 17 of us on this weekend – all walks of life, all different types of cancer and associated treatments.  All in all, a lovely bunch of people who are much more than the ‘cancer tag’!

After getting there, two of us went for coffee and cake as we waited to pick up some of the group from the train station five minutes away.  Finding the train station was easy but finding my way back to the cottage each time meant a little detour… oops!

Friday evening was a relaxed affair, introducing ourselves and getting ourselves set up in the rooms.  The location itself was amazing as we had our own hot tub, as well as a rooftop patio!  For some, the thought of sharing rooms with strangers was possibly a little odd at first, but actually it all turned out grand. Dinner was spectacular, and after a few drinks of own choosing we all attempted the icebreaker of making ourselves a cardboard crown with various craft materials.  Some people are exceptionally talented in this area. I am clearly not!

It was really interesting to talk to people about what cancer they have/had, and the treatment plans and side effects/consequences of treatment they experienced.  It was also good to hear about their personal lives, both pre- and post-diagnosis.  To be quite frank, I am at that stage where I question everything about my life, who I am, and what I want to do now. For a little while I had become quite insular and cancer was all I could focus on.  But even more important for me over this weekend was actually to see and hear how other people live their lives post-diagnosis and treatment, in terms of families, holidays, adventures, and work.  dsc_0584.jpg

Given that this was very much a weekend where everyone pitched in and helped, it was almost like an episode of ‘Big Brother’ without the cameras…! In a non-threatening, non-competitive way, of course!

Saturday was relaxing, too. First off, two of the women produced a spectacular cooked breakfast. I honestly don’t think I have eaten so well anywhere!

Afterwards, a beauty therapist visited to offer sessions ranging from facials and massages, through to reflexology, for those who were interested.  Some of us decided to take a few cars over to the nearby town of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, which is where ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ was filmed.  There was actually a folk festival on that day, and it was great to soak up the atmosphere and find a wee secluded beer garden, then search for ice cream. Other people in the group opted to walk around and soak up the wonderful weather that we had that weekend too.

Later that night, after another amazing dinner, most of us sat down to watch Eurovision and play some games.  Many of us also took the opportunity to jump into the hot tub and let any lingering strains and tensions melt away…

Sunday morning saw another spectacular cooked breakfast before some of us took a gentle meandering walk up the road.  A Sunday roast completed the weekend for me, before I headed home into the sunset…

Overall, it was a great weekend, and I feel that I have made some new friends that actually get everything I have experienced and inspire me to get through the post-treatment slump. It was also not all about the cancer! We laughed and joked, and I even managed to use some of my professional skills to help others, too.

If you’re ever thinking about coming to an event like this one, then I would definitely recommend it!

I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to Shine North East network leader Rachel, who organised the whole weekend.  She’s a special and wonderful person who is spectacular and lovely and kind. Thank you for letting me come!  I know how much effort it takes to organise an event like this, and that makes both Rachel and Shine very special indeed.

Shine North East – Weekend Retreat Nov 2013

Thanks to the great fundraising efforts of Drive Benfield, our Shine North East Group was able to arrange a weekend retreat break for their members, here Soraya tells us all about the experience:

So, last weekend was Shine North East’s very first Weekend Retreat – and we’re already thinking about planning our next one!!

We got a fantastic deal on two gorgeous side-by-side cottages in a lovely little Northumberland village overlooking beautiful rolling hills.

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 photo from verandah 

 We were blown away when we arrived by the luxurious cottages – big thick carpets, huge settees spilling over with cushions, massive kitchens, lovely bedrooms with stunning views and even a few with en-suite bathrooms!! Very fancy! We knew we were gonna enjoy ourselves!

Once everybody had arrived and settled in we did an icebreaker where everybody had to pick a year out of a bag (the years were written on little pieces of paper) and talk about what they were doing that year and what was memorable about it. We heard all about the magical year that Lesley met her Romeo at the tender age of seventeen, Sarah’s idyllic childhood playing on the beach at Seahouses and somehow got around to Kerry strutting her stuff, modelling her stylish new bag which she picked up during her birthday trip to York. There were a lot of giggles and a few tears too, talking about the good times, and some of the more recent, more difficult times.

After a lovely meal of chilli, rice, salad and cake we moved into the lounge and Lesley and I fed back to the group about our recent Shine leaders’ meeting in London. We discussed the direction that we’d like our group to take and it was great that everybody had some input about what they like about the group and how they’d like to see it develop.

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The vino happily flowed whilst some of the group had a fight with the CD player!! But we got there in the end, overdosing slightly on the limited repertoire of boyband CDs available! Luckily the conversation was much better than the music!

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On Saturday morning, after having breakfast together and despite a few sore heads amongst us, we bade a fond farewell to Sarah and Kerry who had managed to squeeze in just about every mode of travel in order to get there and now had to do the same to get home! What a pair of troopers!

The rest of us then took a leisurely bimble into and around the village, relishing the fresh air and the tranquillity of the surroundings. Oh, and the jewellery and nick-nacks that the charming gift shops had to offer. We also spotted another Red Lion – our home from home – and joked that we should have a meeting there!

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After a communal lunch of soup and rolls back at base and some interesting and hilarious stories involving unexpected calls of nature, and, err, frogs, we composed ourselves once more for an afternoon of activity / total inactivity.

The active group went for a 6 mile walk through the beautiful countryside.

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The inactive amongst us fetched our duvets down from the bedrooms, put on a DVD, grabbed a bucket of Celebrations and multiple cups of tea, and hunkered down on the welcoming settees for a good afternoon’s lazing. It was blissful.

When the wanderers returned and had eventually revived themselves, we all headed to the kitchen and I started on the tea – veggie pasta with salad and garlic bread. As we sat down to eat we raised a glass to our dear friend Neil, gone but not forgotten. Without him we wouldn’t have been there at all, as it was a family friend of his who gave us the fantastic deal on the cottages. So we sent him all our love together with a big thank you.

We contentedly finished our dinner but that was not all – there was more to come!

Karen and Claire had sneakily picked up a couple of bottles of prosecco and some Co-op’s finest strawberry cheesecake (OK, so it was reduced, but so what!) to celebrate Lesley’s forthcoming birthday. I was beckoned into the hallway to help with the lighting of the ceremonial birthday candles but kept burning my finger with the lighter. So Karen had the bright idea of setting fire to some paper to help expedite matters, but unfortunately dropped it onto the carpet as we stood, mouths agape, watching this disaster unfold!!! Luckily Karen managed to put it out pretty quick and the carpet is a dark plum colour anyway so, err, you can hardly see the burn marks!! We had to laugh!

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Lesley was so surprised and even shed a tear or two, bless her! The cheesecake and prosecco was guzzled in no time, and very soon everyone disappeared and reappeared in the lounge in fancy PJs and dressing gowns for a bit of Trivial Pursuit – the You Bet version.  The game proved alot of fun but was abandoned halfway through when conversation took over. Again, there were some tears but some laughs too, and in fact a rapidly contagious fit of the giggles that had us all paralysed with laughter for about half an hour!! It was excellent therapy.

The next morning Claire was determined to have a boiled egg! Eggs are banished from her home due to her little boy’s allergies so it was with absolute glee that Claire tucked into her breakfast!

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After a quick tidy up and the last minute hiccup of Lesley’s flat tyre (swiftly resolved by the lovely AA man – a very nice man, a very very nice man), we managed to squeeze in a few photos before heading off for a pub lunch on our way home.

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We met up with the lovely Helen at the Shoulder of Mutton and sat down to a lovely carvery meal, with salmon for the veggies. Lesley was starving and I watched in amazement as she piled her plate high and then covered it in approximately 3 litres of gravy (they’re strange here oop norrf!) But we all had a lovely meal and it was a fab way to end the weekend. We managed just one more group photo shortly before squeezing back into the cars and whizzing off home, hopefully refreshed and nourished by our wonderful time together.

We also returned with a little book of thank yous to give to the very generous Benfield Motor Group, for funding our Weekend Retreat. We all feel huge gratitude to them for the support they have given us and this precious opportunity they gave us to get away from it all and make some fabulous memories together. Our weekend won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Thank you Benfield.

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Here’s what they said:

Jackie: I’ve had an absolutely fantastic weekend with my other lovely Shine members. It was great getting to know everyone better. It’s been very relaxing and lots of giggles along the way.

Kerry: Thanks for a lovely getaway. It’s meant a lot to have support and friendship.

Claire: Thank you for arranging such a special weekend. I feel I have got to know everyone much better. Thank you to everyone for their support and care. I feel much better. It’s also felt like a really special treat as the cottages were so lovely.

Anon: I have had a really lovely weekend . . . Really good to have friends who ‘get it’. It has been very relaxed. This has helped people to share some of the sadness and difficulties they face. And this helps because you realise you are not alone.

Hello world! Our history!

Hi everyone and welcome to our new blog!

We plan to use this blog to share with you everything we get up to….our events and activities and possibly our random thoughts too!

We would love it if you would share the link and spread a little Shine…

Thank you!

In this post, we have added a lot of our historic events and activities so it is a bit of a long one!

Christmas Party 2011
Another great night out at the Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth, lovely dinner and then some cheesy disco dancing! perfect….
3rd Anniversary Party & Fundraiser
Friday 28th October 2011
Our Halloween themed party was a great success….Lots of effort went into some amazing costumes and a great time was had by everyone!
Summer Holiday 26th-29th August 2011
The summer camping trip with a twist was great fun with unexpectedly good weather! The twist is that we had a wonderful converted barn which meant that we had bad weather back up and that some of our members could sleep in a real bed!
The location was great, just on the clifftop at Swanage so great views and access to the beach and a swimming pool.
38 of our members and families came along for the team BBQ on the Saturday night and the rest of the weekend was a mixture of relaxation and fun, spending time together or off out with the family!
Ferndown Relay for Life 16th-17th July 2011
The Shine team did not let the weather stop them for this 24 hour relay event! We raised over £1000 for Cancer Research UK and had great fun doing it too!
Fundraising Raffle! 22nd June 2011
Frans Fundraising party was a great success, raising over £500 for Shine – thanks Fran xx

Pamper Day 29th May 2011

The pamper day on 29th May 2011 was an amazing success with lots of people having some amazing treats.Thank you so much to all of the therapists that gave their time for free and to the Shine team that helped on the day and made amazing cakes.Special thanks must go to Lin for organising it all! wow!!

The final total for funds raised is now over £1000! Thank you

Shine Christmas Party
Shine members and their partners or family members enjoyed a Christmas Dinner and Disco in early December, a secret santa present for everyone and a bit of cheesy disco dancing made for a great night!
23rd Oct 2010 2nd Anniversary
The Shine anniversary party was a great success, raising money and having a great time! The evening was hosted by breakfast DJs from ThunderFM Jay & Faye. They made sure tha party went with a bang and the silent auction was a great success thanks to their energy and competition!
 
Beach/Park Walking Club Apr – Oct 2010
TCamping Weekend 6th & 7th August 2010
The camping trip was an amazing experience despite a bit of unsettled weather, the rainbows were worth it!
It was a very relaxing weekend with plenty of time to have fun, chat and chill out…
The campfires were great fun and we will definitely be doing it again next year….do you want to come?
Relay for Life 17th & 18th July 2010
The Shine teams raised just over £4000 for Cancer Research UK – Thank you all for your support.
The Ferndown Relay for Life is a 24 hour relay which means that at least one
member of your team should be on the track at any point during the 24 hours.
 
Pink Party – October 24th 2009
Beach Walks April – October(ish)2009
The Shine Beach Walking Club started in April. A tailor made, no pressure, evening
stroll along the (flat) promenade from Durley Chine to Poole and back (about 5k)
May & June 2009
Race for life
Well done to everyone who took part in Race for Life events this year.
Take a look at the photos below and join our facebook group to see more.
Just log in to your facebook account and search ‘shinecancersupport’ (no gaps)
or email us for an invitation.
You can still sponsor us online:
10th May 2009 Poole Park
21st June 2009 Bournemouth Pier
28th June 2009 Poole Park Race for Life