Dyanna found “family” outside her comfort zone

August 30, 2013

imageMy name is Dyanna and I am 18-years-old. I’m hoping this recap of my experience at Retreat Yourself Nova Scotia 2013 will inspire people in the future to take part—it is truly life-changing.

I will start with how I was before my diagnosis. Might as well be honest; I used to be in and out of hospitals for major depression. Just as I thought I was nearing the end of a particularly bad period of time, I came down with what I thought was pneumonia. I went to the hospital and after examining me, they said it was bronchitis. I insisted on an X-ray, and they found what they thought was cancer.

Two weeks, a bone marrow sample, and a biopsy later, I was diagnosed with stage 3B Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Naturally, my depression worsened after my diagnosis. I isolated myself. My state of mind also wasn’t helped by the fact that almost everyone I came across at the clinic was older (60s or 70s, at least). I felt so alone. So I went to the hospital social worker and she gave me a pamphlet about Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC).

I had never heard of YACC before, but I looked into it despite thinking there was nobody who could help me at that time. Instead, I found a world of information about young people living with cancer on the website. I immediately started looking into Retreat Yourself where I could meet face to face with people who actually “got it.”

The entire flight to Nova Scotia was scary. I was so preoccupied wondering about the days to come, that I didn’t even realize we had taken off until we were already flying. When I landed, I took a shuttle to the hotel where we all met for the very first time and introduced ourselves. It was very casual (no formal introductions and lots of craft supplies to make name tags for the weekend). I didn’t realize at the time that this hotel and the people in it would be my saviours, my comfort zone, and my home for the next four days.

After we arrived and settled into our beautiful hotel rooms, we met in the main activity room for formal introductions and icebreakers before dinner. Over the next few days, we found a perfect balance between gut-wrenching stories, getting to know one another, amazing food, free time to relax, and trips to coffee shops and beaches to take the edge off.

As scared and as shy as I was when I first arrived, I could actually feel weight being slowly lifted off my shoulders over the course of the weekend. These people, whom I now hold close in my heart as a second family, listened intently as I told them my fears, doubts and stories. In return, I listened intently to them and the hardships they have endured. We chose what we wanted to be the main topics of our discussions, such as fear of reccurrence, fertility, employment, and body image.

One of the only things that didn’t change over the course of the weekend was the atmosphere. It never ever deviated from inviting and comforting. I didn’t feel judgmental eyes on me, or get the sense that people wanted to be anywhere else but sitting there listening to me. Our final closing circle on Sunday was perhaps the hardest part of all; we weren’t scared or uncertain anymore, we were leaving family who we knew and trusted. Not forever, but for now.

You are probably thinking that it’s dramatic and unrealistic to call people who you have only known for four days “family,” but trust me, I was in your position not long ago and I didn’t think I would get anything but anxiety out of this trip. Now that I have gone, shared, learned, and come home, I truly carry every single one of these people in my hearts every day and think of them often.

Retreat Yourself may just be your saving grace. I know it was mine.

Be well,



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