Healing Odyssey: A Weekend ‘Full of Thoughtful Experiences’

March 2, 2017

My name is Lesley Glenn. I am a 51-year-old wife, mother of three adult children, hiker, creative, friend, daughter, sister, cancer advocate, and a thriver of stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

This past October, I was able, through a generous donation, to participate in a Healing Odyssey retreat.

Healing Odyssey retreats were first launched as a nonprofit organization in 1994. The program was created by an oncology nurse specialist and an oncology social worker to go beyond the typical support group, offering women an opportunity to go away for a weekend in a back-to-nature setting. The goal is to create a safe, supportive environment staffed by cancer professionals and trained cancer survivors. Through experiential learning, trust and teamwork building exercises, women learn tools to regain a sense of personal power. The intensive nature of the weekend encourages the formation of deep friendships which often continue to provide support for the women back at home. Healing Odyssey provides a number of follow-up activities for the graduates to remain connected for years to come. 

I am a very private person and independent by nature, and rarely do I attend things like this where I am in a large group of people to share my vulnerabilities, especially when it comes to my cancer journey. I often feel like the “elephant in the room” because I do have a stage IV diagnosis, which means I am incurable and will likely die from my disease. So I often do not feel like I fit in.

But this retreat was different. The staff at Healing Odyssey broke down that wall for me from the moment I drove on to the premises. I was welcomed and hugged and loved right through my car window before I even parked my car.

The weekend was full of thoughtful experiences, that touched on the physical, mental and spiritual ways cancer impacts our lives.  We were equipped with tools on how to best cope with our fears, and the often not-talked-about aspect of the loss of our sexuality. We were encouraged to open up about our feelings through words of empowerment, and taken through a spiritual meditative experience of letter writing and journaling.

For me, one of the favorite highlights was the outdoor invitation to participate in a ropes course. The challenge was different for all. For me, it meant conquering my fear of feeling out of control. But my fellow participants and I were fully supported in every way from the physical to the emotional. Whether each woman put on the harness to climb or decided to opt out, all were celebrated. 

There were also times to just “be,” either alone or with others, walking along a trail and doing other activities meant to encourage laughter and community. The weekend ended with a ceremony: a personal and yet communal walk of empowerment with the other women I retreated with. With tears running down my face, I no longer felt alone in my journey. Among other cancer survivors, I felt accepted. The weekend has catapulted me into taking an assertive stance on my advocacy role in the metastatic breast cancer community. 

Healing Odyssey was and is a sacred space.   

The next Healing Odyssey retreat will be held in Southern California in April. You can get all of the information and apply to attend here

Lesley Glenn is a metastatic stage IV thriver. Diagnosed in 2012, she has not let her cancer determine her life’s path. She is an avid hiker and backpacker, she travels with her husband and loves the arts. Lesley was a member of the first Living Beyond Breast Cancer Hear My Voice team in 2015, where she found her voice in cancer advocacy. She is the co-founder of the annual “Climb for a Cure” for MBC that is held every year in October in Southern California. You can follow her blog at livingauthenticallylesley.com.

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