OCEAN CITY – Eleven families from around the country met in Ocean City this week to partake in a free retreat that offers those with a breast cancer diagnosis time away with their loved ones.
For the first time in four years, Little Pink Houses of Hope, a nonprofit organization that hosts the retreats, has returned to the resort and is working with local businesses to provide the families with free lodging, food and entertainment throughout the week.
Doris Harrington, a “voluntstar” with the organization, said the goal of the retreat is for breast cancer patients and their families to relax.
“It’s a time for the families to get away from doctors’ appointments, oncology appointments, chemo treatments, radiation treatments,” she said. “It’s just a time to sit back and chill, relax and hopefully reconnect as a family.”
A breast cancer survivor herself, Harrington said the organization gives her a chance to give back the support she received in her own diagnosis.
“When someone gets that diagnosis, sometimes their whole world turns upside down and they just don’t know who to turn to or what to do,” she said. “They bond because they think they are the only one going through that diagnosis and then when they find other participants they find another support system.”
Jeanine Patten-Coble, founder and president of Little Pink Houses of Hope, said she started the nonprofit seven years ago, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It became perfectly clear to me that there were a lot of support services for breast cancer patients but not nearly enough support for families,” she said, “and when anybody is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is diagnosed.”
Though she does not come on every retreat the organization hosts, Patten-Coble said she wanted to be in Ocean City for the week to thank the community.
“There is just a tremendous outpouring from the community of support and I really wanted to come and thank them personally,” she said.
Harrington said Vantage Resort Realty has provided each of the families an oceanfront condo for the week and Red Doors Community Center has provided a common space for the group to use. Throughout the week, the group enjoyed free paddleboard lessons, paint nights, pottery classes, boat rides, waterparks and the like. In addition to these accommodations, she said restaurants like Harrison’s Harbor Watch, Chick-fil-A, Carrabba’s, Greene Turtle, Shore Community Church, Bethany Blues and General’s Kitchen have provided free meals.
Bob Noll, owner of General’s Kitchen, said Harrington, a former Ocean City resident and police department employee, reached out to him at a Brothers of the Sand reunion for his support. Noll explained that his restaurant was providing a free lunch for all 43 participants and 11 volunstars.
“It’s taking care of people who have run into some unfortunate times,” he said. “It’s something that hits home and it’s a way of giving back to the community.”
Amanda Mattingly, a participant from Kentucky, praised the organization and local businesses for the retreat.
In June of 2015, Mattingly was diagnosed with breast cancer while 33 weeks pregnant. Since then she has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 30 rounds of radiation and additional surgeries.
After hearing about the organization from a chemo nurse, Mattingly decided to apply for a retreat in Ocean City.
“I did it for a fresh start,” she said. “I went through a divorce during that time and needed a break from it all. I am very appreciative. It really means a lot to us.”
Alissa Bousquet, a participant from Nebraska, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer on New Year’s Eve in 2015. The retreat, she said, was meant to give her and her family time together before her daughter left for college.
“We wanted to have one last family vacation and have family time on the beach before she left,” she said.
Bousquet commended the organization for the retreat.
“You come, you show up and there are no worries,” she said.
Harrington said each year Little Pink Houses of Hope provides free retreats across the country, including places like Key West, Fla., Scottsdale, Ariz., Lake Tahoe, Calif., and more. She said of the 2,000 families that applied last year, 140 were accepted.
“On the realistic side, for some of them this could be their last vacation with their family,” she said. “So we want to make sure we give them everything that their community has to offer and that we can offer them.”