An example of a Re-Shaping Our Cancer Stories program participant’s work. The Abbey Retreat Centre’s offering was a four-week online pilot program that used the Zoom platform to creatively and compassionately reflect on questions of identity, grief, loss and gratitude to help those living with a cancer diagnosis. Submitted

Recognizing support to help those with cancer

By Darren Lum
There was plenty of appreciation that was shared at a recent Abbey Retreat Centre virtual meeting, which was recognize the supporters of a pilot-program for people with cancer and its success.
In 2021, the centre received a $30,600 Resilient Communities Fund grant from the Ontario Trillium Fund (OTF), which went to fund their pilot program, Re-shaping Our Cancer Stories, a four-week online initiative geared to supporting those living with a cancer diagnosis. The Resilient Communities Fund grant program was developed to help non-profit organizations rebuild and recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
At the virtual meeting held on Friday, April 8 was MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock Laurie Scott, OTF volunteer Elizabeth Finnie-Hunt, representatives from the Retreat Centre and pilot-program participants.
“The Resilient Communities Fund was created to assist the non-profit sector in its ability to build resiliency, provide support and serve communities,” Scott said. “I’m glad this grant can help the Abbey Retreat Centre support community members through their new pilot project that will positively impact the lives of those who are experiencing cancer.”

From a press release, “Throughout the four-weeks, participants experience a number of gentle, evidence-informed practices that address some of the common side effects of cancer. Time together over Zoom includes restorative yoga and breath work, simple art-making invitations, music and nature connection and honest conversation and sharing. A series of 12 videos was also created to deepen and guide home practices between gatherings. By the end of April, ‘Re-Shaping Our Cancer Stories’ will have been offered three times.”
Abbey Retreat Centre executive director Barb Smith-Morrison said the virtual offering enabled participants, who are known as “piloteers” to benefit from the initiative any where they were.
“We’ve called them piloteers, because these have been three pilot projects that our hope is and our commitment is now to continue adding to our complement of online programming. It’s been really important for people because of the long wait list [of] people. People who are too ill to travel to an in-person retreat. People who live too far away in Ontario or just to add to that supports that they have in the midst of this experience,” Smith-Morrison said.

Piloteer Janet Auty Carlisle said she was thankful to participate in the initiative, which was possible because it was online. Carlisle was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic and said the Abbey Retreat Centre’s offering came when she needed it
“So, I did everything by myself. I had to stay away from home for six weeks. I had all my surgery alone. I stayed in the hospital alone. It was all [in] isolation, and it was super lonely and super confusing. So when I was invited into this, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” she said. “I’m one of those non-artsy people that Fay [Wilkinson who is with the Centre]was talking about. And I could not speak more highly about how welcome I felt and how well this resonated with what I needed to have at the time because the connection was so far away from anything I had, and it was just a super scary time for me. [So,] walking into this was like walking into a room sitting with a bunch of women I’d known for years and having tea. It was very lovely. Thank you for that.”

Smith-Morrison thanked Carlisle for being a piloteer and welcomed her to come to the Highlands when possible.
“The Abbey Retreat Centre was born out of a vision to support people living with a cancer diagnosis. Through a variety of in-person and online programs, people affected by cancer are invited to step out of ordinary time into a safe and accepting community where they can experience rest and renewal, companionship, and an introduction to practices that help soothe, strengthen and restore the body, mind and soul in the midst of a cancer journey. Retreats and programs are offered at no cost to participants, recognizing that there are already many increased expenses for individuals and families facing cancer,” as stated in a press release. For more information see
Wilkinson,who helped design and execute the online initiative with Miriam Patterson, was thankful for the OTF grant, which enabled the pilot-program to be designed and offered.
“We concluded: We shall not cease from exploration and at the end of it all we’ll be to arrive where we started and know that place for the first time,” she said. “The path is made by walking.”