Wonderwell with Couples

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JUNE 20, 2017

If you are a veteran reader of this blog, you know that I come twice a year to Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in Springfield, NH with a group of women who have advanced cancer. These three day retreats have always been marvelous, and I decided to try a similar program with couples. Helped by my colleague, Frank McCaffrey, we are here with four couples living with advanced cancer.

One thing I have learned through the 8 or 9 times I have been here is that each retreat is unique. We knew that this one would be different, and it already is in some ways--but the laughter that I hear coming from the dining room is familiar. Until the middle of last week, we were anticipating being here with 7 couples. As inevitably happens, several had to drop out. One had unexpected family visitors from the West Coast. Another was feeling too rotten due to a new chemotherapy regimen, and the last had emergency surgery. I was concerned that four couples would not be enough to sustain the community, but I was wrong. Once again, as the wise teachers her remind me, I need to trust the universe.

We began with lunch yesterday, and it was less awkward that the initial lunch usually is. I suspect that the fact that people are all here with a spouse reduces any sense of social unease. Plus we were an even small group as two couples were delayed by the thunder storm of Biblical proportions that raged, on and off, through the afternoon and evening.

By cocktail hour, complete with wonderful hot hors d'oeuvres thanks to Donna, we were a group. This morning, after my usual wonderful night's sleep here, we came down slowly for breakfast. What a treat to have the coffee waiting and soon to enjoy a marvelous spread of eggs and oatmeal and fruit and yogurt and breads and cereal. The new addition was miso soup which turns out to be balm for queasy stomachs.

Soon we will have a two hour meditation and yoga session, then move to lunch (everyone's favorite tomato soup and grilled cheese!) and then to continue our conversation. This afternoon, I think, we will divide the group. Frank will meet with the spouses/caregivers and I will meet with the patients. As much as they love and support one another, there are clearly some topics that are easier this way. Yesterday afternoon, while sitting on the back porch with one husband, he began to talk about his fear of life after his wife's death. When she arrived, we quickly changed the subject, but I hope we will return to it.

For yoga, I am wearing a ridiculous outfit of leggings and my favorite-can't-wear-it-often t-shirt. It was a gift from women in one of my breast cancer support groups. They have stayed close since the year or so we met together back in 2006. They walked together in the Making Strides walk one fall and had these shirts made. The back says "Hester High 2006" (you can see why I don't wear it most places); the front has a lovely mandala and a quote from Mary Oliver and says " L'Chaim. On the sleeves are the names of all the women who came to this group, some are well, and too many have died.

I wear them, and so many others, on my sleeves and carry them always in my heart. L'Chaim.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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