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Stretch Heal Grow: A Retreat for Young Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer

By Rethink Breast Cancer March 19 2015

Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer seems, to me, to be a series of moments for which I’m not ready. I’m not ready to be chronic. I’m not ready for the next scan. I’m not ready for treatment. I’m not ready to lose another incredible woman. I’m not ready to be lost.

Certainly, I wasn’t ready last weekend when my husband and I arrived in Muskoka for a gathering of women who have stage four breast cancer. To be honest, I had tried to get out of it just weeks before, shooting off an email to Jasmin, founder of Stretch Heal Grow, saying I just couldn’t deal. I didn’t know if I could handle being in a group of women like me. Could I cope with that reminder of mortality in myself, as well as in others?

Thank goodness for Shawna of Rethink Breast Cancer (working in partnership with Stretch Heal Grow). She reached out via email and insisted this retreat would be good for me, and it wouldn’t fixate on the hard stuff. She encouraged me to face my ‘I’m not ready.’

“Alright, I’ll try,” I wrote back.

The retreat weekend eventually arrived. After hours of driving from Ottawa, we pull up to the entrance of the Trillium Resort & Spa in Muskoka. Fluffy white snow covers everything and the sky is this striking blue. It’s a world away from the dimness of our apartment back in Ottawa, where we spend most days working over our computers and receiving emails about work, letters from the hospital, phone calls with appointments, plus the always growing pile of dishes in the kitchen sink.

We drive into this beautiful, quiet place and I just want to breathe it all in. If winter was like this everywhere, we’d never need spring to arrive.

Credit: Catherine Hudon/5Mphotographie
Credit: Catherine Hudon/5Mphotographie

We park by the main chalet, and my husband jumps out of the car. He is waiting for me to join him. For the first time at a cancer support event, I have him with me. This is huge. We are going to experience the weekend of yoga, meditation, and support together. In some ways, I’m doing this as much for him, and for us, as I am for myself.

And still, despite having him there, I know that getting out of that car means admitting that I belong to this group. I am really, truly living with stage four breast cancer.

But Zsolt is waiting. So, I get out of the car. There’s no going back.

In that moment, as we went to check in, the only thing I wanted to take away from the weekend was resilience – resilience in simply being there. But instead, I found more. Or maybe it’s better to say that I found something deeper.

Credit: Catherine Hudon/5Mphotographie
Credit: Catherine Hudon/5Mphotographie

The weekend started and I was running on empty. By the end, I’d been filled up with little moments. So many little moments. Here are just a few, but I’m certain between all of the participants, we could fill up a book.

• The welcoming hug from Shawna as I checked in at reception.
• Holding my husband’s hand during the opening circle.
• Mats unrolled for yoga at sunset, led by Leo.
• The smell of lavender and eucalyptus.
• New neighbours at each meal, with new stories and insights.
• Admitting that I was struggling with being there, and others saying they understood.
• Yarn being tossed through the air, person to person, forming a Mandala.
• Snowshoeing, sweat dripping, and praying I don’t see a bear!
• Sleeping through the night.
• Giggles, laughter and tears.
• The bracelet on my husband’s wrist that he didn’t take off for days.

Stretch Heal Grow reminded me to forgive myself for never really being ready. I guess perhaps, we won’t ever shake off the ‘I’m not ready’ of life. Not totally, at least. But despite that, I know I can do this: relax my shoulders, soften my face, and take a long, deep breath.

Breathe, move, and breathe again.

This is a feeling I’ll carry with me.

Zsolt and Catherine

-Catherine Brunelle

P.S. Thank you to Stretch Heal Grow, Rethink, and all the sponsors who helped make the weekend retreat possible. Thank you, thank you and thank you again. 😉

Want to hear more from Catherine? Check out her awesome blog at!