Abbey Retreat Centre readies for grand opening 

By Sue Tiffin

Published May 15 2018

A year after a pilot program offering a retreat for people living with cancer came to Haliburton County the Abbey Retreat Centre is opening its doors for a grand opening.

Renovations and the final touches of the development of the facility located at the former Hewitt House on Abbey Gardens property have taken place as well as additional retreats including one held earlier this month.

The centre aims to bring together people living with cancer and their primary support person to share experiences including challenges and fears of their cancer journey.

“What we wanted to do is to step forward and provide support for people who are living with that reality to do that in some different ways” said Joy Davey retreat centre board chair and executive director. “There are certainly traditional treatments – surgery chemo radiation – we aren’t saying those aren’t important at all. We know that there are other practices that support people while they’re doing those treatments and support people generally. In scientific literature those are things like yoga medication relaxation good nutrition expressive arts – programs that support people’s emotional health and wellbeing and just laughing and loving.”

Davey said the program helps to look at a person outside of the cancer diagnosis to ensure quality of life needs are being met apart from cancer treatment.

“When you get a cancer diagnosis right away there’s anxiety and fear” said Davey. “What treatments should I have people telling you what treatments you should have appointments and that becomes your life. You lose track of other things in your life that are important like relationships and quality of life.”

Guests to the retreat are able to attend free of charge to help alleviate some of the financial strain they might have faced due to their diagnosis.

A caregiver or supportive friend or family member comes with them and together they can engage in the variety of activities and experiences available as part of the program.

Work with expressive arts led by Fay Wilkinson is new to the program and has provided a creative outlet for visitors.

Additionally local drummer Bazza Barry Hayward has facilitated fun at the retreat.

“Participants said ‘for two hours I didn’t think about having cancer’” said Davey. “We talk a lot about the importance of having fun and how you can lose track of that.”

The retreat also offers support to people going through traditional cancer treatment to ensure they can finish it. In her experience Davey said some people at the retreat have expressed that “Cancer is not the problem for me it’s the treatments that cause trouble.”

She said working through some of the side effects of those treatments with support programs that help promote open communication and overall health and wellness can be helpful for some people.
“Part of what we try to do in our cancer retreats is invite people into some of these practices we hope they’ll take them home and continue with them” she said. “We can’t change the cancer diagnosis but we can do things about improving quality of life so people can live as well as they can for as long as they can. We’re not so much about curing cancer as we are to helping people to heal and become more whole.”

The Abbey Retreat Centre has been funded in part by grants from the Haliburton County Development Corporation a Rural Economic Development grant and private donors. Davey said support from the community is needed for the retreat the first of its kind in Ontario.

“[Something] that’s been really important to me from the beginning is that people in the Haliburton community see this as that they will speak of this as our retreat centre not as the retreat centre that belongs to someone else” she said.

“We want it to be a community undertaking but the success of this is going to depend on people getting involved people volunteering their time and energy to do all of the jobs that we haven’t even imagined yet. We’re going to need that kind of support from the community in terms of their time and energy financial support and also that the community can be a kind of referral network for us. Sometimes the best referrals come from someone who’s had the experience and can then go home and talk to someone they know who’s living a similar reality. [To say] ‘This was a good experience for me I think it might help you.’”

A grand opening at the Abbey Retreat Centre welcomes members of the public to celebrate the centre and see the facility on Wednesday May 16 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 1150 Garden Gate Drive Haliburton. A ribbon cutting will be held at 5:30 p.m.