Heart and Soul

Monday, April 25, 2005


Recently I attended a pajama party.

Ok, so maybe I was the only one in pajamas, but never the less it was still a party where women gathered to eat, gab, hang out and get to know one another in a truly fun and supportive atmosphere.

However, this particular conclave of Western New York women differed from pajama parties of my past in that all who gathered (excluding yours truly) are currently battling or are survivors of breast cancer.

Officially, the weekend was titled The Sisterhood Wellness Center Renewal Retreat for Breast Cancer Survivors. It’s an event begun 9 years ago under the leadership of Derby, New York resident, Nancy Timm Bowen, herself a survivor, diagnosed in 1994.

While undergoing treatment, the well known SouthTowns Businesswoman realized that little existed in the way of common sense support for women trying to manage the cancerous disease invading their bodies. So in 1995, Nancy began the Sisterhood Wellness Center with the express goal of giving those diagnosed with breast cancer a chance to associate with other women who have had the same experiences, and felt the same anxieties.

My entry into this group came via an invitation from Nancy to attend the retreat and share some of my Heart and Soul experiences with the women, to help them laugh. That was the crucial part, Nancy insisted. Laughter is essential to these women and, while tears are allowed, the central point of the weekend is to promote positive thoughts and feelings.

So, with humor in mind, I set off for the retreat location stylishly garbed in my pj’s, armed with my special stuffed bunny and copious amounts of chocolate. Upon my arrival Nancy introduced me to a group of 20 women of all ages and sizes. Remarkably, it was only minutes until we were all sharing chocolate and discussing families, marriage, sex, religion, shopping, friends….the typical topics women dissect when gathered in groups. We laughed and enjoyed getting to know each other despite having no real commonality other than our gender.

Then amazingly, in what seemed like only minutes, my allotted time with these women came to an end as it was announced that lunch was served. Never one to pass up a free meal, I accepted Nancy’s kind invitation to join my new found friends in their noon time meal. Once seated and served, these women and I again launched into conversations about everyday topics in a manner free and easy.

I could have been anywhere, with any women.

Yet slowly, the conversation wound it’s way to health, or rather to these individual woman’s health and the distinct battles in which they are, or have been, engaged. Suddenly I was adrift in a sea of medical terminology and prescriptive medications that were foreign to me, but completely second nature to the women surrounding me. As I sat and listened, they openly talked about their diagnoses, their surgeries, and their reoccurences. Some even showed scars as evidence of their surgical battles.

The "veterans" of the group questioned newer members about medications and readily volunteered side effects they had suffered. They also suggested alternative medicines they thought might be more effective or easier to withstand. The group conversed about smoking and the difficult task of quitting, even after being diagnosed with cancer. One woman quit while on retreat hoping that the time spent with other survivors would help strengthen her resolve. Another woman spoke of the recurrence of her cancer after ten years of remission, which in turn brought more stories of remissions, and even death.

Sitting and listening, as an outsider, I found these conversations somewhat frightening and even a little overwhelming.

However to the women with whom I had just shared a morning of laughter and bonding, it was life…their lives…. in the most real form. And thanks to the remarkable Nancy Timm Bowen, for one pajama party weekend, that reality was just a little bit easier to bear.
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