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Local non-profit helps cancer survivors move forward

organizing retreats, the group seeks to help women find themselves after cancerBy SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

When Pam Cofer found out she had breast cancer at 44, she took the news like a soldier, fighting through years of chemotherapy and medical treatment, always thinking first of her loved ones.

"I was busy making everyone else feel good about it," she said. "I was more worried about how my husband and children would take it. I did everything and continued working and really had an upbeat attitude."

But that’s when the doctor hit her with the news that changed everything not that she was going to die, but that she was going to live.

"When the doctor told me my treatment had ended, that’s when it hit me," she said. "You can’t get a diagnosis of cancer and not change; life as you know it is never going to be the same again. That’s when I needed emotional support from the community that I wasn’t getting."

She knew she needed to do something for herself and for other women seeking their identity after cancer. Along with Lola Bogue, Cofer started Women Beyond Cancer, a non-profit organization that arranges retreats for women who have had cancer.

"I went to a retreat in Montana that was life-changing for me," Cofer, the executive director, said. "That’s what really sparked me starting an organization that helps meet the needs that weren’t being filled, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. It helps you to figure out who you are beyond the cancer. It’s like peeling off the layers of the onion and things start coming to the surface."

Cofer said that because cancer survival is a relatively recent development, the knowledge of how to holistically heal cancer patients hasn’t been perfected, making it necessary for groups like Women Beyond Cancer to fill the void.

"We’re like the new generation because we’re living and not dying," she said. "It’s frustrating because there’s not enough medical information, because doctors need 10 or 20 years to conduct a study, but they’re getting that information now."

Working as a registered nurse with her husband Donald Cofer a chiropractor gives Cofer the avenue to help people medically and emotionally, a combination which she feels is important.

"I also do lifestyle counseling for people who need to lose weight, lower their cholesterol, lowering their blood sugar, just people who need to get healthier," she said. "I work with local MDs who refer their patients to me. I just like to help people."

With Women Beyond Cancer, the focus is on the emotional and spiritual, and is meant for anyone, not just survivors of a specific type of cancer.

"Our main program is a four-day, three-night retreat, and what makes us unique is that Women Beyond Cancer is for all women with any kind of cancer," she said. "The part does not make the woman whole it’s not about what part of your body has cancer. There’s so much more to each woman that just what part they had surgery on."

Plans are to hold the retreats in different locations, including Park City, Sun Valley, Missouri, Maine and Oregon, with no set routine or agenda at any specific retreat.

"Every retreat is different based on the needs of the women and the group as a whole," she said. "It’s a focus on anger and fear release."

To achieve their goals they use journals, massages, nature activities, art, music therapy, guided imagery, yoga and a special chef who cooks "incredible healthy meals."

But more than just a weeklong camp, Cofer said the women make relationships that will last a lifetime, with the other women and with themselves.

"They come in as individuals and after half a day they are sisters for life," she said. "They do more for each other than we could ever do for them."

There is no charge for the retreats, but Bogue, who is currently serving as interim president of the organization, said they ask for a donation of $150, "But no one will be turned away because of financial concerns."

Bogue said she met Cofer after moving to Park City. She heard Cofer was starting retreats for cancer survivors, something Bogue had done previously as well.

"I’m a cancer survivor and when we moved to Utah we got out into the community to see what was going on with cancer survivors," she said. "I heard about Pam doing retreats and it was something I was interested in because I had done them before. We met basically through email and then met one night in Park City and just knew we were destined to start this together."

"We wanted to provide a place for women to connect with their own sense of wholeness," she continued. "You’ve heard the phrase, ‘life is a journey,’ well, when you’re diagnosed with cancer it’s a journey, and what Women Beyond Cancer provides is a place to step forward. We provide a beautiful setting with people who understand what they’re going through."

A retreat is being held in the Park City area Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 and there are still spots available. For more information contact Pam Cofer at (435) 640-1152 or visit http://www.womenbeyondcancer.org online.


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