Little Pink Houses of Hope Retreat
Edited to clarify -- My 19 year old son Jimmy was allowed to come, even though he is over the age of 18. He could not come due to work scheduling conflicts. My husband's name is also Jimmy. My other son, David, age 15 at the time, did come, too. Sorry for the confusion.
I've posted a photo album on my personal facebook page with all of the photos from the trip. Here's the link if you'd like to see them: photos
Little Pink Houses of Hope is a wonderful organization. They provide week long retreats to breast cancer patients and their families. From their website: "Every beach retreat is designed to help families relax, reconnect and rejuvenate during the cancer journey." We finally had a week when we could "get away from it all", and at the same time connect with other patients and families. I was so excited when I got the word that our application had been approved! Our retreat was held at Ocean Lakes Campground in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The process is not a short one. I applied in December, and found out at the end of July that my application had been approved for the Myrtle Beach trip in October. There is a committee that looks over all of the applications, and there is criteria that must be met. This is an all-expense-paid vacation, except for traveling to and from. People donate the use of their homes; businesses donate goods and services; fundraisers are held throughout the year. In the past, there have been trips to the local aquarium, mini-golfing, and stand up paddleboarding, among other things. I heard there would be lots of activities to choose from. Volunteers are assigned to each family. Before our trip, I had three conversations with Kathleen, the volunteer assigned to my family. We become friends on Facebook before the trip. It was so nice to meet her face to face, as well as the other volunteers and participants.
Although I am very sad that Jimmy, our 19 year old son, could not join us on the trip, nor could our dog Benji, I was so excited to be going. A few days before the trip, I checked the North Carolina Department of Transportation's website to see about the detours we would have to take, as I-95 had been washed out in a few places when Hurricane Matthew came through. Let me tell you how I was stressed as that hurricane came up the coast; I was so afraid the retreat would have to be cancelled. Ocean Lakes Campground, though, sustained minimal damage. So, even with the road washed out in a few places, only about an hour was added to our drive.
Saturday morning (the day before) stared with laundry. I also left the house to visit a friend I hadn't seen in about eighteen years. It was so good to see her, and to meet her grandbaby (who is the absolute cutest). Then it was time to head to Georgetown for maintenance infusion number 19. Usually on a Saturday we're in and out, as the medicine takes only an hour to administer. Today, there was a small mix-up with the order, so the nurse had to send a fax to the doctor to have the date on the order changed. Then it took longer than usual for the pharmacy to send the meds up. So, for my 1:30pm appointment, I got started with the meds a little after 3:00pm. On top of that, there was more than the usual traffic heading out of DC, so it took longer than usual to get home. Finally, exhausted at home, I worked on packing my things while Jimmy and David did some last minute shopping. My knitting projects had already been put together (here's a link to the pattern I picked to work on during this retreat: Allegeria), so I just needed to gather my clothes and meds. When the boys got home, it was dinner and movie time.
Day 1: Sunday -- Arrival Day
4:00am came awfully early. We were all able to fall out of bed by 4:30, and were on the road around 5:30. The drive should have taken about seven hours, but Hurricane Matthew added about an hour to the drive. Our plan was to arrive at 2:30, as that was the beginning of the check-in window. We ended up stopping only three times, twice for snacks and bathroom, and the third time for gas -- because as we were pulling onto the entrance-way to the highway after stopping at Sheetz for food, the gas light came on. ;) So, we had to find another gas station.
We pulled in to the campground at 2:40pm. The volunteers were waiting. We met Kathleen, and she got us registered. In addition to the very nice beach house for the week, we had use of a golf cart. Not only did we find the kitchen stocked with breakfast and snack foods, we also found bags full of things we would be able to use during the week --- beach towels, sunglasses, a journal, a hat (that I wore all week), and miscellaneous other items. We had a few hours to unpack and rest before dinner. Below is a picture of our home for the week:
Dinner was at the rec center. It was a Mexican buffet, provided by a local restaurant. During this time, we met the other participants and their families, as well as all of the volunteers, and we got the schedule for the week. After dinner, one person from each family introduced their family. We were back at the house by 8:30, which you well know is past my bedtime! David and Jimmy took the opportunity to head out for a few forgotten items.
Day 2: Monday -- Beach Day
As our first scheduled event was at 11:30, we had a nice, relaxing morning at the house. At 11:30, we met everyone at the Observation Deck for lunch (donated by Subway), then we had a few hours on the beach, soaking up the sun. It was David's first time visiting the Atlantic Ocean.
After spending a few hours on the beach, we rested back at the house for a bit, then headed to a local church, whose members provided a fabulous southern fried chicken dinner. Dinner was followed by games. It was a fun night.
Day 3: Tuesday -- Scavenger Hunt Day
Another lazy morning, as we were exhausted from the sun yesterday. After breakfast, we met up with everyone at the rec center for a crafting session. I chose ceramic flip flops, while Jimmy painted a bucket/shovel. Then, while Jimmy painted and put shells on a picture frame, I sat and knitted with Mary Jo, one of the volunteers. David had stayed behind at the house.
Following craft time was a tasty lunch provided by a local restaurant, then time for the much anticipated scavenger hunt. It was so much fun! We went all over the campground taking pictures -- the observation deck, the big chairs, a security guard, the speed limit sign.... The list goes on an on. It was fun figuring out the clues and finding the places. One time they almost left me behind; I wasn't quick enough back into the golf cart. We only had one hour to get all of the pictures; Jimmy wasn't messing around!
Back to the house for a nap, then a very nice chili and salad dinner provided by the owner of the campground, his wife, and her coworkers and friends. After dinner Jimmy, David and I took a little walk on the beach.
Day 4: Wednesday -- Shelling Excursion Day
Before the shelling excursion, though, it was time for the participants to get together, without the families. While our families slept in, we met and had coffee, bagels, a back massage, and therapeutic talk. We all shared our stories; we laughed together, and cried. It was a beautiful experience. When we were done (we ran a little behind schedule; we had lots to share with each other), we met back up with our families to head to breakfast-for-lunch at Flapjack's Cabin. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, potatoes, and grits. Real southern grits. I still can't get Jimmy to try them, though. ;)
After lunch, we all drove to a boat dock in Georgetown, South Carolina. On the way out to the island, thecaptain would stop the boat every so often to tell us stories of the nearby plantations. He gave each of the children an opportunity to drive the boat. The little ones did, and loved it. The teenagers wouldn't do it. I on the other hand did. I drove the boat. It was fun. After about an hour, we pulled up right on the beach of what the captain called Shell Island. We all walked around with buckets and bags, and ended up with lots of great seashells. I, of course, lagged behind. I sent Jimmy and David ahead, and found one of those huge driftwood-type trees to use as a bench. Finally, I decided I wasn't going to keep going and join them, but that it was time to head back to the boat. As I sat there, I really started to feel sorry for myself. Before cancer, I would have been right there with Jimmy and David collecting shells. Sure, I would have been slower than them, but I would have walked as far, and would have been able to actually bend down and pick up the shells myself, instead of pointing to them for the boys to pick up. Another way cancer has totally changed our lives, and our family dynamic. The heartwarming moment of the day happened as I was sitting on that beach feeling sorry for myself. Another participant and her family happened by on their way back to the boat. They asked if I was okay (it sure was hot out there). Although I assured them that I was, they insisted I come back to the boat, and the shade it provided. I walked arm in arm back to the boat with one of the ladies, helping each other along the way. The shade and a bottle of water had me feeling much better. We were about a half hour lat getting back to the dock, which made us a little late to dinner.
For dinner, we all met at Hamburger Joe's. Jimmy, David, and I ordered our bacon cheeseburgers, fries, and onion rings to go. We were exhausted after the long day. A few other families did the same. So, dinner was back at the house, then I was in bed by 7:30!
Day 5: Thursday -- From Broadway at the Beach to the Boardwalk Day
Jimmy and I went to the beach at sunrise to see well, the sunrise. It was an amazing sight. Simply amazing.
Our first stop on the Boardwalk was the SkyWheel. This is similar to the Capital Wheel at National Harbor, which we've seen often but never ridden on. It's a huge ferris wheel with enclosed cars, so not so scary when you're at the top.
After the SkyWheel, we walked along the Boardwalk for a while, going in and out of the shops.
We had some time before dinner, so went across the street from the campground to the ice cream parlor. After the ice cream parlor, we spent some time on the beach. Not nearly enough time. :)
We split up for dinner. Most of the volunteers stayed at the rec center with the kids, who tie-dyed t-shirts, ate pizza, and spent time in the arcade. While the kids were having fun, the adults went to dinner at Bovines, a local steakhouse. Jimmy had a very nice filet and scallops dinner, while I opted for the ribeye. We had enough of the ribeye left over to go with eggs for breakfast the next morning. :) It was a very nice, relaxing night. David came home with lots of things he'd won at the arcade, the t-shirt he had tie-dyed, and a belly full of pizza. He had a good time.
Day 6: Friday -- Last Day
After breakfast, we made our way to Surfside Pier, where a professional photographer was waiting to take a family photo. It's not a true family photo, through, as Jimmy was not with us, nor was Benji. The photos did turn out really well, just missing two. The plan for the day was that I would spend a few hours on the beach while Jimmy and David went bowling, because I really wanted to get in some more beach time. It was, however, too hot. In October. Go figure. So, I went to the bowling alley and watched them bowl. It was a good time. Next up was mini golfing. We started out a little shaky since it's been so long since we'd played, but quickly got the hang of not hitting the ball so hard it jumped off the green. :)
When were we done with those fun activities, we drove up to the local yarn store. In case you don't know, I'm a knitter. I had already picked out some yarn in my stash, and a pattern, to knit during the trip. Another thing knitters do is to visit the local yarn stores when we travel. So, I picked out a pattern, and had hopes of finding some grey yarn to use for it. As fate would have it, I was drawn to a wonderfully blue/multicolored yarn. This yarn may nor may not be used with the intended pattern; I may look for another pattern for it and still look for grey to use for the intended pattern. The yarn has yet to let me know what it wants to be.
We were all very tired by now, so it was back to the house to rest up for our final night dinner. Dinner was provided by Journey Church, whose members ere there to not only serve dinner, but to give us a few surprises. The tables were decorated in a Fall them (it is mid-October). On the table for each child was also a children's book, signed by the author (one of the volunteers). Dinner was Italian fare -- baked ziti, spaghetti, meat sauce, alfredo sauce, salad, and a wonderful cake for dessert. After we ate, some of the volunteers took the children into the next room for a little fun while the retreat director went over our check out procedures. The retreat director also asked us what our most memorable thing was about this week. Mine was watching my 15 year old step into the ocean for the first time. Then, the participants were asked to stand together for a photo. After the photo was taken, members of the church gifted each one of us with a bag full of items, as well as an incredible homemade quilt. Every time I use that quilt now, I can feel the love that was sewn in to it. We then moved in to the next room, where pictures were taken, hugs were given, and tears were shed. Phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged, and facebook friend requests sent and accepted. After, a good many of us went to the gazebo where karaoke was happening. This happened: I Will Survive
Day 7: Saturday -- Check Out Day
On the way home, we had breakfast at the Waffle House, went through a car wash. After that, we stopped only for snacks/bathroom/gas. To say we were exhausted is an understatement. A nice, happy, relaxed exhausted. It was so good to get home and see Jimmy and Benji.
As I type this, finally, a few weeks later, I am filled with wonderful memories. The week was filled with walks on the beach, good meals, wonderful people, crazy golf cart driving, Pokémon hunting, and rest. It was so good to finally get away from it all. I don't know about Jimmy and David, but I came back totally refreshed. I feel as though the reset button has been pushed. :)