By Jenny Lee Fowler
Photos: Courtesy of Mary’s Place by the Sea
As I walked into Mary’s Place by the Sea, I was greeted by smells of home cooking and the friendly bustle of Chef Catherine Russo and a small team of volunteers layering finishing touches on towering salads and pulling trays of vegan crab cakes from the oven. After settling in our rooms, we all sat down to share a meal and introduce ourselves at the long dining room table.
Since 2009, Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, has been offering free integrative respite care for women within a year of cancer treatment “to complement their medical treatment and empower, educate and support their healing: mind, body and soul.”
Guests choose a couple of individual sessions in oncology massage, counseling, expressive writing, reflexology and reiki and can participate as they wish in group options including guided meditation, yoga, prayer, nutrition education and counseling. Schedules are provided on arrival.
Looking down Main Street from the third-floor balcony of my room, I could see the waves and a slice of the boardwalk. The historic promenade stretches thirteen miles from Long Branch to Manasquan with wide-open sky, fishing piers and restaurants. I was happy that I brought my bike along and would have a chance to get some wind in my hair.
Our weekend schedule provided for a mix of solo and shared experiences: reading in a rocking chair in the sea air, exploring the quaint Victorian Village shops, catching memorable dinners in neighboring Asbury Park with its flourishing food scene, sitting around the gas fireplace making fast friends with fellow guests, or simply curling up for a nap.
Vibrant vegan breakfasts and lunches are served communally. I chose massage and reiki services that fit well with my relaxation goals during a challenging treatment phase.
According to a study, one in four women with breast cancer suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the shock of their diagnosis, physical pain from illness or treatment, anxiety around tests and fears of recurrence for early-stage cancer or longer-term coping for those with advanced-stage cancer. My old qigong instructor used to say, “The one with the most options wins.”
What Mary’s Place does well and generously is to create a safe and supported space for women with all kinds of cancers to explore new ways of healing and to increase their options for living fully and healthfully in spite of their illness.
Throughout my stay, I was moved by the flow of volunteers and the unhurried grace of many hands making light work. Many of them had personal connections to the place, which contributed to the genuine feeling of hospitality as they tended the daily chores in a fully accessible home that accommodates up to nine overnight guests, and a few day guests, at a time.
On the morning of our last day, a handful of us woke early to watch the sunrise over the ocean. Some of us were in active treatment, some of us stood on that shore with that part of our journey behind us. Either way, Mary’s Place by the Sea offered a peaceful pause to connect with ourselves and with each other.
Women can apply for day visits or two-night midweek or weekend stays. Find out more through their website at www.marysplacebythesea.org.
See the incredible journey of Co-Founders, Michele Gannon and Maria McKeon, in this inspiring video. █