Battle Weary but Still Ticking

By Fay Octavia

Shambhala Mountain Center will host the 8th Annual Courageous Women Fearless Living Cancer Retreat, August 19–24

There used to be a Timex watch commercial that said “takes a lickin and keeps on tickin.”  That is what I think about when I think about my friends who have survived the ravages of cancer.

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Photo by Barb Colombo

In meditation this morning as I felt my painful shoulder from carrying the weight of my oxygen tank yesterday, I thought of my friends who have had cancer. I know that is not where you are supposed to think, but somehow meditation is such fertile ground for planting and cultivating a blog post.  Sometimes it just takes over and it seems impossible to return to the breath.

My friend Betsy just had a brain tumor removed a couple of days ago. On a visit to her doctor over a year ago, he said to her, “What are you doing here? You should have been dead two years ago.” I won’t comment on his insensitivity, but on her resilience. When I am with my Courageous Women friends (that I met at the Courageous Women Fearless Living Retreats over the past three years) I think of soldiers returning from war. In the movies they are happy the war is over, but battle scarred, bloody, sometimes missing a limb or more and some barely able to move. Those of us who have survived cancer are often missing a breast or two, can be missing limbs (from bone cancer), struggle to recover from the demonic trio of cut, poison and burn (surgery, chemo and radiation), and may spend the rest of our lives diminished in ways we never imagined we would have to live with.

The scars are not just external. I suspect many of us have something like post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The financial stress of unbelievable medical bills, the sadness that you may leave your small children or can’t even lift or care for your children, the anguish of being in constant pain or coughing all the time, the hurt of the spouse who leaves because s/he can’t deal with your condition, the children you will never have because the treatments have left you infertile. The list goes on and on each woman facing her own version of the nightmare.

When Betsy wrote that she was going to the Courageous Women Fearless Living retreat again this year, I was reminded how powerful a solution that has been for many of us. I’ve met so many women there who have inspired me and become friends like Betsy. The support keeps on giving in the form of these friendships and the love that develops among the women. While it is painful that some of our friends have fallen in the battle, many more are alive and still tickin. As the Memorial Day holiday has recently past, I salute our fallen warriors but especially I salute the ones that have continued on courageously, if not always fearlessly, living day by day.

Peace, Blessings and Lovingkindness,
Fay Octavia

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Shambhala Mountain Center will host the 8th Annual Courageous Women Fearless Living Cancer Retreat, August 19–24.  To learn more and to register, please click here.

Courageous Women, Fearless Living Celebrates Its Eighth Year

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Photos by Barb Colombo

Shambhala Mountain Center will be hosting the 8th Annual Courageous Women, Fearless Living retreat from August 19-24, 2014. This innovative and contemplative program was founded in 2005 and has helped over 300 women with a current or past diagnosis of cancer. Through nutrition, Tibetan healing, integrative medicine, meditation, yoga, art and community building, women are given powerful tools to meet the totality of their experience directly and courageously.

“Our goal is for our participants to return home with a new circle of support and friendship; with the mental, emotional, and contemplative tools to support them in their journey through cancer; and with greater self-awareness, confidence, DSC_7664and appreciation for life,” says Judith Lief, one of the lead instructors of the retreat. Lief is a contemplative hospice pioneer, senior meditation instructor, former dean of Naropa University and author of Making Friends with Death.  She is joined for this retreat by a team of experts with similarly impressive credentials including Victoria Maizes, MD, Executive Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine, and Linda Sparrowe, a writer, yoga instructor, mentor and practitioner with deep roots in the Vedas, Sanskrit, and women’s health. Read more from these inspiring instructors below:

“In the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a village to heal from a serious illness like cancer. Confronting illness can be such an alien and lonely journey. At the Courageous Women retreat, I have been inspired over and over again by the village we form, if only for a few days. Within this village friendships are made, stories are shared, and deep healing occurs – for staff as well as participants.  This kind of healing continues without regard to the ups and downs of life, the remission or progression of cancer.” — Judith Lief

DSC_7701“When things go really bad, and whatever is happening seems completely solid and hopeless, the only ally I have found is a sense of humor.  By humor I don’t mean ha-ha trivialization, but a sense of lightness that punctures the heavy-handedness of my own dramas. What a relief to know that S.O.H. is always lurking around, ready to pop up just when I need it most.” —Judy Lief

“Living with cancer can indeed be a long journey, sometimes confusing, often frightening, and hardly ever predictable. People often say, take one day at a time, but I love that Tulku says sometimes even that’s too much. Do what you can, but don’t forget to “rest along the way.” Cultivating a yoga and meditation practice can help you stay in the present moment, be gentle with yourself, and give you a respite from the emotional chaos and physical challenges you may be facing.” —Linda Sparrowe

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“When you are dealing with the medical system, you are caught in the hassle of finding doctors, going to appointments, enduring procedures, and basically running from one medical consultation to another, not to mention dealing with insurance companies, worrying about finances, and all the “collateral damage” that comes with a cancer diagnosis. In the midst of this claustrophobia and fixation on disease, simple sense perceptions can collapse all this pain for an instant and give you a fresh perspective A glimpse of the new moon, a spring flower in the meadow, a hawk perched high and proud in a pine tree. The evening star. A child’s laughter.  How precious!” —Judy Lief

To read more about this retreat and its instructors–Acharya Emeritus Judith Lief, Victoria Maizes, and Linda Sparrowe–click here. This retreat is also open to caregivers and loved ones of women on the cancer journey.

The 8th Annual Courageous Women Retreat is being generously supported by the Eileen Fisher Foundation and the Beanstalk Foundation, both of whom have awarded grants to fund program scholarships. To apply for scholarships, please visit cwfl.org.

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Bringing the Retreat Experience Home – Courageous Women, Fearless Living

By Sarah Sutherland

Thanks to a generous grant from the Shambhala Trust, Courageous Women, Fearless Living has launched its first-ever website: www.cwfl.org

The new website will make it easier for women touched by cancer to find out about the Courageous Women 5-day annual retreat and access resources that help extend the retreat into everyday life.

Fearless Women Touched by Cancer Unlike many retreats for women with cancer, the Courageous Women retreat not only offers respite and renewal in a beautiful setting but also teaches participants meditation and contemplative practices to work effectively with their mind and emotions.

“The basis of the retreat is that everyone has the courage, gentleness and strength to relax and find joy in the most difficult circumstances, even a cancer journey,” says Adana Barbieri, who runs the retreat together with Judith Lief, Victoria Maizes, and Linda Sparrowe. “This unique retreat offers women a supportive, nurturing environment and effective techniques to discover the courage to be fearless in the midst of a life-changing cancer diagnosis.”

Shambhala Mountain Center has supported and hosted the summer retreat since 2006 and its website has been the main source of online information about it. By launching its own website, CWFL hopes to reach a broader audience of participants and donors.

After this summer’s retreat, the new website will also include a robust “resources” section that will include access to talks, videos and instructions on meditation and yoga taught during the retreat. Integrative medicine and natural health information, including articles and recipes, will be featured as well. A secure social networking page will give retreat participants a way to stay connected, feel supported and nurture their friendships.

“With the website, we can extend the reach of the retreat into participants’ lives when they return home,” says Barbieri. “That way, they can continue to benefit from the wisdom, compassion and community they experience at the retreat.”

Smiling Woman Holding BannerThe generous grant from the Shambhala Trust—whose mission is to support projects that promote the creation of enlightened society—will also fund a promotional video. Intended primarily for healthcare professionals, the video will show the essence of the retreat to people who are unfamiliar with it but are in a position to recommend it to their patients. The video is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

In addition to the extraordinary support and retreat discounts offered by Shambhala Mountain Center, CWFL is sponsored this year by the Eileen Fisher Community Foundation  and the Beanstalk Foundation.

Upcoming: Courageous Women, Fearless Living is hosting three morning retreat samplers on Saturdays from 9-12:

May 18 – Ft. Collins
June 8 – Boulder
July 13 – Denver