Several months ago I hit some turbulence in my journey. Things had been going so well and then all of a sudden my numbers crashed, they were lower than ever and my monthly monitoring turned to biweekly lab work. In short I was devastated, on the brink of another painful bone marrow biopsy to find out what was going on and feeling somewhat defeated. Thankfully things turned around but at the time I needed a change of pace, something that would allow me to get my spirit and determination back. While I am truly blessed by the amazing support system that I have both locally and beyond, inside I was struggling and I had a sense of negativity that I needed to shake. That’s when I heard about Mary’s Place by the Sea.
Mary’s Place is a retreat for women who have had or are currently battling some form of cancer. It’s a place to heal mind, body, and soul. It’s located on the beautiful shores in quaint town of Ocean Grove, NJ and it is all made possible by numerous volunteers, workers, and donors (all angels if you ask me). You can choose to go for a day, a night, or two nights. I learned about this opportunity through my online myeloma community and decided to reach out right away. Really I was thinking, can I go tomorrow? That was October and the soonest they could get me in was January. I thought about waiting until the spring when the weather would be more agreeable but I ultimately decided on a weekend in mid-January right after my birthday and right before the anniversary of my mother’s passing. I thought it fitting.
Have you ever arrived at your destination and were instantly overcome with the notion that this is exactly what you needed? That it was exactly where you needed to be? That was Mary’s Place for me and that feeling grew stronger throughout the weekend. I had checked the weather in Ithaca before I left and had assumed that the cold and snowy forecast wouldn’t be much different in NJ. When I reached Ocean Grove that Friday morning, I parked my salt covered car behind a row of salt-free vehicles out front of the beautiful house I’d be staying in and emerged bundled up in my down coat to find that it was sunny and 50 degrees. Oops! I’d barely put one foot out of the car door before I was greeted by one of the workers who offered a warm welcome and insisted on helping with my bags. I hadn’t even made it inside the house and knew I was going to be among amazing people that weekend.
During your stay at Mary’s Place, they very generously allow you to pick a few services to make your stay that much more enjoyable. Upon arrival I received an itinerary along with a beautiful scarf donated by Land’s End. On Friday I had a wonderful oncology massage as well as participating in some guided imagery. Saturday morning began with yoga and in the afternoon I met with a psychiatrist who specializes in hypnosis. I had never been hypnotized before but hey, I was willing to try anything that could help my dwindling positive attitude. Each and everyone of these experiences helped my perspective immensely. My only wish is that more people in the medical world would start giving recognition to the importance of fighting illness all 360 degrees, from every angle: mind, body, and soul. Attitude truly is everything. What really changed my attitude was the people I was fortunate enough to surround myself with that weekend.
So many wonderful people volunteer at Mary’s place, some every week, some a few times a month. The truth about discovering others who have had cancer or have someone close to them that does is that you don’t want to find anyone else out there with this awful disease to face. But in actuality when you do, suddenly this weight it lifted and maybe what you personally are going through doesn’t seem so bad in comparison. I chatted with many volunteers, all of whom breathe life into this place. Perhaps the most touching story for me was meeting a volunteer, whose daughter is about ten years older than me, had fought not only breast cancer but now has the exact same cancer as me, Multiple Myeloma. Because my mother’s own death from breast cancer, I’ve always been worried that I too would be faced with the same cancer one day. It came as a complete shock to me that my own cancer came in the form of something else entirely, but the concept of having to fight both types in one lifetime was incomprehensible. The blessing in disguise was discovering this woman and I are in the same stage, monitoring and otherwise pretty healthy and from that conversation came a recommendation of a Myeloma specialist (I fired mine, a story for another day) in Mount Sinai that doesn’t always think chemo is the answer. Getting an appointment with this doctor is on my to do list.
As for my housemates, the first night there was only one other guest. She and I are at very different stages as she is actively in treatment and found herself needing to rest quite often. I can certainly say she came to the perfect place to rest in such a peaceful atmosphere with the sounds of the sea right outside your window. That first night I was a little lonely, my fiance, J, was an hour away in Princeton, but a two hour round-trip drive seemed to negate my goal of a relaxing weekend. So I opted for a walk along the shore (catch a glimpse in the video below), and there in the waves, with the smell of the sea air, I realized I needed to do this, just me. If I was really going to benefit fully from this experience I would have to be open to the whole experience, to share things I tend to keep to myself about how I’m feeling mentally. I tossed some of my bitterness and resentment into the sea at that moment and returned to the house where I spend the rest of the evening chatting with the very lovable house manager.
Saturday brought new faces in the form of both volunteers and guests. One of the guests was only with us for the day. Our time together was brief but was lovely that she was able to be there. The other guest (I’ll call her D) was there for the night and no sooner had we started chatting I knew we were going to have a wonderful time. After we had our sessions in the day , D and I took a long walk on the boardwalk and spent time down by the sea. Someone suggested we try out Cavé for dinner, an organic, paleo restaurant nearby. I keep a strict anti-cancer diet which makes eating out hard, a decision that made me deeply appreciate the breakfasts and lunches we were offered at Mary’s place, which align with my own diet. My great discovery was that like me, the paleo diet uses no processed sugar (which is in pretty much everything) and it’s gluten-free. As both D and I try to avoid sugar we promptly asked for the desert menu, that I’ve come accustom to declining at most restaurants, before we had even ordered entrees! The food was nothing short of amazing! I ordered a butternut squash and roasted red pepper soup with a coconut milk base, BLT lettuce tacos (pictured below) and to finish we shared a chocolate chip cookie and a chocolate pumpkin muffin, of which I’m still craving the latter. The remainder of the evening was spent swapping stories until the wee hours of the morning, we had so much to relate to in our journeys and I found a wealth of comfort in that.
Sunday was a bit of a sad day, it was time to pack up and head home after breakfast. Couldn’t I stay just a little bit longer? But the greatest part: being told I could come back again! Oh you haven’t seen the last of me Mary’s Place, because to sum up my experience, well, it was simply life changing! Thank you for giving women a place heal, find themselves, and most importantly give them the positive energy that is so essential when battling cancer. You rock!
You can learn more about Mary’s Place and their brand new 10 bedroom house that opens in February here: https://www.marysplacebythesea.org/
Or following them on FB: https://www.facebook.com/marysplacebythesea