– Erika Brown

I recently had the opportunity to “retreat with” a small group of carefully-selected cancer patients and caregivers, each invited because of their specialized approach to providing advocacy and awareness efforts on behalf of their fellow patients and caregivers. The event was hosted by A Fresh Chapter (AFC), a nonprofit that empowers cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers to discover renewed confidence, possibility, and purpose in their lives.

The setting was bucolic (Mount Tamalpais  – “Mount Tam” – in Marin County, California), the food was sublime, and the participants became close friends within minutes of first meeting.

The gathering was convened to celebrate and nurture patient/caregiver leaders; the ultimate outcome of the days we spent together was a sharing  of best practices for managing our daily lives in the face of living with the difficulties of the realities of cancer.


What brought this group together is our common cause: the cancer experience. Our patient/caregiver roles suddenly reveal themselves individually to us with a diagnosis.  All of a sudden – with that diagnosis – we are “different.” We are stunned in surprise, and we find ourselves on a “path” that we had not considered before. We are shocked by the reality that we must become medically literate sooner rather than later, and it feels as if we are trying (inexpertly) to drink from a virtual fire hose of incoming, potentially life-saving information.  Sometimes our careers are taken from us with job termination (yes: this does happen, far too frequently), our spouses and friends sometimes desert us, and, too, we are forced to immediately confront our own mortality.

With all of “this” on our virtual plates, it’s difficult to see our cancer experience as a life opportunity.

But opportunity it can be.  It certainly has been exactly that for me!!

Sharing together in this “safe space” with one another, that opportunity becomes clearer, while – at the same time – each of us can get closer to the knowledge and realize the fact that we are not alone in our cancer lifework.  The dawning of this awakening (WE ARE NOT ALONE!) is a very strong first step in the journey to becoming an effective and productive patient leader. For the first time in my own development as a Patient Leader, I was able to benefit mightily from the reassurance and validation that was freely offered to me by AFC’s retreat.

We of PALTOWN are motivated by our mission of developing training for another fairly common personal reaction to the cancer experience: WE NEED TO BECOME  STUDENTS OF OUR DISEASE, FOR OUR LIFE’S SAKE. While our own PALTOWN workshops and medical literacy training opportunities target training in intimate groups,  AFC’s focus is on the individual’s nurturing – addressing the very REAL nature of “burn-out” for the patient/caregiver who has the newly-uncovered wish to show gratitude for life by “giving back” and “paying it forward.”

Both of our organizations provide programs that assist in empowering the Patient Leaders that are currently seizing the opportunity to make a difference.  I hope we will collaborate closely to support the greater patient population, to the benefit of all. 

A FRESH CHAPTER’s spring retreat was a real “refresher” personally for me, a dedicated patient leader and innovator determined to make a difference for all of my fellow patients and caregivers who are to follow in my footsteps.

Thank you, FRESH CHAPTER!!  

WELL done!  When do we talk?!!!

Fresh Chapter (AFC) is a non-profit organization that empowers patients, survivors, and caregivers to move beyond the isolation and trauma of cancer to discover renewed confidence, possibility, and purpose in their lives. Since February 2013, AFC participants have contributed more than 16,500  volunteer hours to dozens of nonprofit organizations while taking positive action against the isolation, anger, depression, fear of recurrence, and survivor guilt often created by cancer. AFC runs programs in India, Peru, South Africa, Kenya, and the United States. Programs are open to men and women ages 18+ who’ve been impacted by cancer as a patient or caregiver. Useful Links on the A Fresh Chapter WebsiteExplore ·  Application

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