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Retreats and Support Groups Offer Space for Emotional Healing

Image Reborn retreat participants hug
Merica Hale (pictured far right) found support and built friendships during a retreat for women with breast cancer.

In Memoriam: Merica Hale passed away in March 2022. We honor her memory and are grateful she shared her story.

Updated October 2020

“I was 37 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Merica Hale, a wife, mother of two, and full-time laboratory manager at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “Surgeries and treatment were hard. My emotional healing was harder,” she says. 

Adjusting to life after a cancer diagnosis is anything but easy. Everyone copes in different ways. It’s important to remember that feelings of grief and distress are normal responses to the loss of health, whether it is your own or that of someone you love. It may help to view grief as a process—feelings of shock, disbelief, longing, anger, sadness, and acceptance that ebb and flow. While the process may be ongoing, there are healthy and lasting ways to work through trying times. Support groups and special retreats are helpful for many people with cancer.

“Cancer can be a very isolating disease. Connecting with other cancer patients online or in an in-person support group can decrease isolation, provide additional support, and help reduce stress,” says Lisa Gauchay, MSW, LCSW, social worker with the Patient and Family Support team at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). Gauchay currently runs a support group for women with metastatic breast cancer at HCI and also refers women with breast cancer to support resources in the community. She suggested that Merica attend one such resource, a no-cost weekend retreat called Image Reborn in Park City, Utah, specifically for women with breast cancer.

“I attended my first Image Reborn retreat unsure of what to expect, unsure of myself,” Merica says. “What I found is that the retreat offered an opportunity to be pampered without worry. A chance to relax and to meet women going through the same things, ask questions, and offer each other support.”

This type of social support and self-care can be fundamental to emotional healing. “In my experience of running a few different breast cancer support groups over the years, I have seen many lasting friendships form,” Gauchay says.

That was true for Merica and the women she met. “The weekend retreat, away from everything in a healing and relaxed environment, meant I could be part of a supportive and loving group as well as indulge in time for me,” she says.

Cancer touches all of us.