“The goal of our retreats is to create a safe, comfortable, inviting space for breast cancer survivors to be able to rest, refresh, and find much needed support and connection to navigate the emotional aspects of a breast cancer diagnosis.” Dana Floyd, executive director of Pink Retreats
Dana Floyd knows what it looks like to get to the other side of a breast cancer diagnosis. To navigate through the winding path of painful surgeries and treatments to “beat cancer” and begin your new normal. She did just that. And yet, while everyone was celebrating her victory, Dana still felt a dark cloud hovering that she could not seem to get out from under and could not outrun. To add to this sense of apprehension, for the first time in her life, she began to have panic attacks. She says, “That was the moment I realized that there was another piece of this recovery that I had not been prepared for and it was crashing down on me.”
“My story isn’t unlike so many,” she explains. “Whether your path led to a lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemo, radiation, or other cancer treatment drugs, it is hard. Whether your journey has been a week, several months or 10 years, it is hard. Whether you hear Stage 1 or Stage 4, it is hard. All across the board, it is hard.”
It was the emotional fallout of breast cancer that she experienced which led Dana to want to help others in their recovery journey. Pink Retreats was the result of this desire.
Bruce Neurohr, president/CEO and board member of Pink Retreats, has known Dana since 2006 when the two worked together at the National Christian Foundation (NCF), a US non-profit organization that assists donors in donating to charitable causes. Bruce, the former head of NCF’s Atlanta office, has enjoyed leading, serving, and founding a number of successful companies and ministry endeavors. He walked through Dana’s cancer journey with her and was one of the first to support Dana’s vision and is committed to using his extensive nonprofit experience and business leadership to ensure that Pink Retreats succeed.
“From the time treatment ends to the moment when a breast cancer survivor can begin to move into their new normal,” Bruce says, “there is a big gap in the journey that most survivors do not know how to navigate. They have a hard time explaining it when they don’t understand it themselves.”
He goes on to explain that many affected by breast cancer have an experience akin to PTSD. “Unfortunately, it is almost at the same time the emotional battle sets in that support falls away because people feel that you’re ready to move on.” But, as Dana and many others can attest, moving on is not always an option.
Bruce has seen how powerful community can be to create hope as women fight the next stage of their battles. “Dana threw out the idea of Pink Retreats on a Facebook page for those affected by breast cancer. There were about 350 people in the group. When she presented the idea, she almost immediately had 200 responses, all overwhelmingly calling for what Pink Retreats could offer.”
One person reached out to Dana and said, “I’m just beginning to go through my treatment and just knowing that something like this exists gives me hope to continue my treatment and fight that much harder”
On October 24-27 of 2019, the first Pink Retreat was held with six participants who attended a three-day retreat at a large private home totally free of charge. The group had discussions led by a licensed counselor highly trained in working in this area and in a very short time the connections began to organically come together. One participant said, “Since being diagnosed there have been so many times that I have felt alone in my journey. To know that there are others that understand is such a huge gift. To be able to process feelings and emotions with others on the same path was such a wonderful part of the weekend.”
Another participant added, “I so enjoyed my weekend at Pink Retreats! Not only was I able to relax, focus on myself and just breathe, but I was also able to meet women of all ages, backgrounds, stages in their journey and share stories, feelings, many, many laughs and, yes, some tears, too. It was a wonderful time, and I'd encourage anyone who has survived breast cancer to do this for yourself! It's so worth it!”
In addition to the counselor-led sessions, a chef provided meals and education in nutrition while oncology massage and physical therapists helped them physically. Yoga, stretching and art sessions were also part of the weekend.
“The retreat is just the beginning,” says Bruce. “We want to have a person connected to these participants when the weekend is over. For this first group, Dana had led the charge meeting with the attendees and following up including having everyone over at her house for dinner about six weeks after the retreat.
Dana said, “When the group all got back together, you could almost hear the deep breaths as they found themselves once again with those pink sisters that have now become a lifeline for each other. A group that gave each of them the gift of being seen, heard and loved. Now they’re helping each other.”
This is exactly how Pink Retreats is supposed to work. After the weekend, PINK Retreats assigns a "PINK Ambassador" who has traveled their own breast cancer journey, to walk alongside the attendees for years into the future. The lifelong support community is where the greatest long-term value of the organization is achieved. The non-profit structure has been created to be replicated and scalable. The vision is to impact 100,000 women through 100 support communities over the next 10 years.
“We hope that this experience will be replicated by women taking this back to their own hometowns. On our end, we’ll help them with the fund raising, identifying counselors, and leading them in how they can pay their experience forward to help others,” Neurohr explains.
The goal for Pink Retreats is to hold two to three retreats in its first full year and then grow to six in the following year. Beyond the retreats, they are hoping to create environments where women can get together and provide support in other situations as well as the retreats. “We want to see this grow and create the connections that these women so desperately need. The retreat is kind of a launching pad,” says Neurohr.
“What is it that we’re really trying to accomplish?” Bruce asks. “We’re trying to offer hope for people after they’ve gone through the physical trauma by connecting them with others who are farther along on the journey. This gives the person who has already been through the process a chance to redeem her experience and gives the participants someone to stay in contact with them. We want to create community.
As one retreat attendee said “ Everything about the weekend was incredible but being with other women that understood what I was going through was the thing I had no idea that I needed but cherished the most.”
Participants agree that their Pink Retreat experience was exactly what the doctor ordered. “I can not imagine a better weekend. I had no idea how badly I needed to step away from the day-to-day life circumstances and breathe for just a little while.”
Another participant closed with this, “Such an amazing time together. I am so thankful to the Pink Retreats team for all they did to create a life-changing weekend.”
Does Pink Retreats sound like something you or someone you know could benefit from?
Perhaps you are a breast cancer survivor that would like someone else to benefit from your experiences. Check out Pink Retreats at PinkRetreats.org or find them on their Facebook page or on Instagram @pinkretreats.