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The Value of Community: North Carolina Bladder Cancer Retreat

May is bladder cancer awareness month, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to tell you about how I met some of my online support team.

I was diagnosed in 2014 and joined a few online pages for support and information from those with personal experience. I immediately “bonded” with members I spoke with and who really helped “talk me off the bridge,” as we occasionally say. I had seen a post from one of the members about an annual picnic held in North Carolina every September for bladder cancer survivors. It definitely caught my eye and I tucked that away for future reference.

2016 changed my life

Due to family nuptials, I missed the 2015 retreat, but in 2016 I decided I would check the picnic out and scheduled a road trip. I emailed my reservation to Nancy, the organizer of the event. At this point, the event was several years old, and the cost was minimal so I figured what the heck! I set off on a weekend trip that would change my life.

Road trip!

I drove the nearly 8 hours to beautiful Maggie Valley, North Carolina. I arrived Thursday evening, had a great meal included in my accommodations, and met a few other attendees. I spent Friday exploring the area and buying some locally made items. On Friday, those who arrived early from out of town got together and had dinner with great conversation. It was interesting to hear how many people were regular attendees and some had even flown in for the picnic!

Finding support, connection, and fun

The day started early on Saturday. About 50 people had come from all over the US, we all introduced ourselves, where we were from, and where we are in our cancer journey. This was followed up by speakers, handouts, samples for RC people, information, encouragement, and much more. After lunch, we formed breakout groups defined by those with a bladder, those without, caregivers, and so on. The day ended with some entertainment. A local who raises wolves brought a couple to the conference and told us all about them while introducing us to each canine. It was an amazing weekend.

Reflecting

I drove home on Sunday, and can honestly say that it was one of the best weekends I ever had. I met amazing people, found out neat tricks to deal with minor issues - I am a “bag” lady. I pet a beautiful wolf, I received some great materials and made lifetime friends. I could not have asked for more. There was not a question in my mind that I was going to return the next year.

The organizer needed help

In 2017 I arrived again for the event. During the introductions on Saturday Nancy informed us that she had suffered a recent heart attack and subsequent major surgery following that. She said that the picnic was very important to her but that she could not continue to organize it each year alone.

Immediately, five of us signed up to help out. We all knew how much value we received from this event and certainly wanted it to continue. As it goes, when the time came to get going on the 2018 event, I was the only person who actually had time to help. Both 2018 and 2019 were great, and our number of attendees increased to about 70 with attendees from 19 states.

2021 retreat is in the works

It is 2021 and here we are getting ready for the 12th annual North Carolina Bladder Cancer event. We missed last year due to COVID, and we are really looking forward to seeing survivors again.

Because the majority of our attendees come from all over the country, it is now called a retreat and we have optional events from Thursday to Sunday. Thursday evening is usually a casual meal in the mountains with a breathtaking view.  Friday we plan optional events but there is plenty to do in the area as it is close to Ashville. Saturday is the main event and it is all day long.  Sunday is the day most head home but again there are a couple of optional things to do. As of this day, we have 52 people signed up for the September 23rd to 26th retreat.

This is not a woe is me get together but a way to have fun, meet other survivors, take home samples, handouts, information, and many new friends. The people you will meet and the information you will gain along with visiting a beautiful area for a relaxing time is invaluable.

If you would like more information, please reach out to me or join our Facebook page - North Carolina Bladder Cancer Retreat.

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