Written by: Veronica Wernicke
When Jeanine Patten-Coble was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 her life took on a whole new meaning. While on a run past an abandoned compound of beach houses, during a family vacation to the Outer Banks right after her diagnosis, she was struck by a calling. A calling to start some kind of retreat center for breast cancer patients and their families.
Fast forward nine years later and Little Pink Houses of Hope has been serving families affected by breast cancer for seven years now. Their mission statement is simple: “To promote breast cancer recovery by offering opportunities for survivors to reconnect and celebrate life.” Quite simply, they provide week-long vacations for breast cancer patients and their families at no cost. They believe a cancer diagnosis does not just affect the patient, but the entire family. Every retreat is designed to help families relax, reconnect and rejuvenate during the cancer journey.
Since their first retreat in Kure Beach, NC in May 2011, Little Pink now has 16 retreats each year all over the country and they have served over 600 families. Families have the option of applying to and visiting any of the retreat locations at no cost. Everything except the traveling cost to and from the retreat is taken care of by the organization. All they have to do is get themselves to one of the retreat locations. A week at a Little Pink retreat is about creating a relaxing environment for the families and making sure they are not worrying about cancer. Instead, families get to kick back and relax. They get to create lifelong memories that they might not have been able to do otherwise. They get to meet other families facing the same challenges as they are. They get to forget about cancer for just a little while. They get to learn to Stand Up Paddleboard, have a beach day, a date night, go on a boat ride, and so much more depending on the specific retreat location. Currently, retreats are held in Carolina Beach, NC; Scottsdale, AZ; Hatteras Island, NC; Ocean City, MD; Sedona, AZ; Key West, FL; Emerald Isle, NC; Orange Beach, AL; Grand Haven, MI; Lake Tahoe, CA; Oak Island, NC; Myrtle Beach, SC; New Smyrna, FL; Dallas, TX, and Southern California. Through continued fundraising, they are looking to send even more families on their retreats and add even more retreat locations around the country.
In our own backyard, those who attend the Carolina Beach retreat spend their week creating beautiful memories in a place we are lucky to call home. To start off their week families check in at Kate’s Pancake House where they get to meet their VolunSTAR, other families, and enjoy a delicious dinner together. Families also get to enjoy a private tour of the Fort Fisher Aquarium and enjoy a group dinner with the animals. The rest of the week the families have the option of doing activities such as yoga, fishing, bike riding, kayaking, along with many other fun activities. At the end of the week, families get professional pictures taken and come together for one final group dinner as they share their favorite moments and say their goodbyes.
The retreats are made possible by donations and fundraising. Every October, Little Pink hosts a gala fundraising event near their home office in Burlington, NC. Community members compete in a friendly dance competition all geared to raise money for the organization. After its major success in raising money for the non-profit, they decided to bring one to Wilmington to raise more awareness for the organization. Little Pink chose Wilmington because of the already great group of support they have here as well as its close proximity to current retreats like Oak Island, Carolina Beach and Myrtle Beach. This year’s fundraising event will be held on Sunday, June 10th from 6 PM to 9 PM at the River Front Park in Downtown Wilmington. The event will feature a cocktail hour, dinner, dancing, guest speakers, a live auction, and live music from local bands. This year’s speakers include founder and President Jeanine Patten-Coble and retreat recipient and now volunteer Veronica Wernicke. The Chair of this event is Wilmington’s local and cancer survivor Suzanne Lundin.
Suzanne first heard about Little Pink before her cancer diagnosis through her co-worker Paula Lowe, when Paula was one of the dancers at the Burlington gala back in 2014. Little did she know that cancer would be knocking at her door not long after. Suzanne was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer a year ago in March 2017. She described her experience with breast cancer as life-changing. “No one wants to hear the word cancer, let alone when it involves your own body. Life just kind of stopped. I remember feeling like I could not breathe. But then you pull up your pants and rally your tribe and you take it one day at a time.” Life can already be stressful, but with cancer, Suzanne felt the added feelings of loss, confusion, vulnerability, and above all “why me.” It was during this time that she learned how valuable family and friends are while you are in a fight for your life. “My family took me away for a wonderful vacation and my friends spent an amazing weekend with me at the beach before my surgery. I cannot express how much those times meant to me and had an effect on my focus and gave me strength to fight my cancer. This is what Little Pink does for people.” when Suzanne heard about a Little Pink event coming to Wilmington she jumped on board to help in any way she could.
For locals looking to get involved please visit Little Pink’s website at https://www.littlepink.org/. Once on the website, you can find the tab “how to help” which will direct you to donation pages or volunteer applications. There are several ways people can get involved within the organization. You can donate money, donate your beach houses for a retreat if you live where a retreat is held, sign up to become a retreat volunteer, or sign up to be a local volunteer and serve on a Team Little Pink committee which helps before and during retreats.
Most importantly please attend this summer’s fundraiser for Little Pink! Tickets are still available for $100 at https://www.littlepink.org/wilmington/. Little Pink hopes to make this event’s first year one to remember and they are excited to bring together the Wilmington community to raise money for a great cause.