BETHANY BEACH — There’s something special about vacationing at the beach — the combination of sun, surf and sand somehow works like an antidote to what’s ailing us.
It’s that kind of peace that Jeanine Patten-Coble found on vacation with her family in North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 2009, just one day after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
While out on a run, she came upon a group of homes. They gave her the idea to create a safe haven where families affected by breast cancer could escape — at least for a week — the grind of daily living by spending time together.
In that moment, Little Pink Houses of Hope was born.
Since then, the program has grown from North Carolina to seven states — including Delaware — and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Breast cancer patients and their families accepted into the program stay for a week at no cost. They only have to provide their own transportation.
“Families get a chance to meet other families going through the same situation. It’s rare for them to be able to get the support they need,” Patten-Coble said. “It’s not just, ‘Here, this is a free vacation.’ It’s a chance to have an entire support network for the entire family.”
This year, 113 families are expected to benefit from a vacation through Little Pink Houses. In Delaware, that includes 11 families staying around Bethany Beach in beach properties donated by owners, said Stacy Shepps, who administers the program in Delaware.
“Once a family gets to us, it’s all about trying to give them time for them to be together,” said Shepps, a breast cancer survivor herself. “That means no doctor’s appointments, no group studies, no counseling. You can let your guard down. What’s really cool about it, seeing the husbands do the same.”
The program, now accepting applications for its third year in Delaware, was brought to the First State by Jesse Shepps, Stacy’s daughter, who volunteered with the program while an Elon University student. She helped with one of the retreats and suggested a locale farther north might be a good option.
But to do that required some quick action on the part of the mother-daughter team. After scouring the beach resort for homeowners willing to donate their homes for a week, Jesse and Stacy rounded up a team of volunteers willing to assist families during their stay.
“It’s really great to have a 20-year-old say, ‘I want to do this and bring this to Delaware.’ She has a mom who is a cancer survivor, and this was her way to give back,” Patten-Coble said. “To me, it really just shows you can be anybody and you can feel in your heart you need to do something. All you have to do is a take a step forward and do it.”
The first retreat was held in August 2012 in Bethany Beach, with five families descending on the quiet beach town for the same week.
The following year, nine families came. This year, 11 are slated to spend the week in Bethany.
It’s not just the families who look forward to the retreat, Shepps said. Volunteers also enjoy the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with family members, taking them to the outlets, on morning activities and trips to the beach. Local business owners also donate their time and services.
“We have such a wonderful community of support,” Shepps said.