Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Wendy Letow, the Founder and Executive Director of Respite Retreats, a nonprofit organization located in Columbia, MD. Respite Retreats was founded in June 2018 with the mission to “provide retreats of respite to cancer patients, their caregivers, and families, and encourage healthy living to all.”

Respite Retreats is not Wendy’s first venture in starting a nonprofit. In 2006, Wendy started The Little Things for Cancer in memory of Jennifer Hartley, a liver cancer patient who sadly succumbed to her fight in 2004. Then in October of 2016, The Little Things for Cancer merged with another nonprofit named the Zaching Against Cancer, thus creating The Little Things Program.

After the merger, Wendy decided to take a step back and take some much-deserved time off, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that the world had something else in store in her. “Then one morning, I woke up with this download of everything I felt I needed and wanted to do. If I’m not serving the cancer community, I’m not whole” says Wendy. From that moment, Respite Retreats was born.

Respite Retreats offers a variety of different services designed to help the whole family take their mind off cancer. This gives patients, caregivers, and families the opportunity to focus on healing their body, mind, and spirit through relaxation and self-care. All patients and families are welcome, however they must either currently have cancer or be within 6 months of having cancer.

Normally Respite Retreats offers in-person retreats, but since the COVID pandemic, they have focused on providing virtual retreats. The virtual retreats allow patients and families a chance to disconnect from everyday life with cancer from the safety and comfort of their own home.

Each retreat offers a wide variety of holistic therapies and activities, including yoga, meditation, music therapy, guided imagery, journaling, games, and more. Everything that is needed for the virtual retreat is packaged and mailed to individuals a week in advance. Then, on the day of the retreat, all participants join a video call meeting and embark on their four-hour virtual retreat.

For individuals looking for a less-structured program, Respite Retreats also offers a program called “ReTreat Yourself.” Each participant will receive a box full of goodies designed to help them take time for self-care and relaxation. The box includes items and activities such as adult coloring, reading & puzzle books, journals, art activities, puzzles, blankets, and slippers.

Respite Retreats is making it easier than ever for cancer patients to stay in touch with their care team, especially during the pandemic. Respite Retreats’ Connect to Care program was designed with the intention of limiting cancer patients’ exposure to the coronavirus by providing them a Kindle Fire tablet, free of charge. These tablets not only provide patients with access to telemedicine and video conferencing, they can also use the device for “mini-retreats of their own” by playing games or watching videos.

The final program that Respite Retreat offers is the Jess Beard’s Ears Over Fears program, which is a fun craft activity where kids get to design their own ears using stickers, markers, gems, feathers and other colorful items. Children can choose from a variety of different headbands and themes, including Princess, Pirate, Mermaid, or Superhero. This activity opens the door for parents and healthcare practitioners to talk openly with children about their fears and concerns surrounding cancer. Ears are worn as a reminder that children are stronger than their fears.

“Through the support of our community & fundraising efforts, we are blessed to be able to offer all our programs at no cost to those we serve.” With no added financial burden, individuals are truly able to reap the full benefits of these services by focusing solely on healing and fostering personal introspection.

“In addition to these programs, Respite Retreats has big plans for the future. We cannot say much yet but stay tuned for our plans post-COVID” says Wendy. You can learn more about this wonderful organization by visiting https://respiteretreats.org/ or reaching out to Wendy Letow at wletow@respiteretreats.org.