Nonprofit gives cancer patients a break away
In 2009, when Jeanine Patten-Coble was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and given just a 25 percent chance of surviving a year, she was overcome with a sense of calling.
That calling was to create an opportunity for breast cancer patients and their families to take a break from the onus of treatment. Amid her struggle, she created Little Pink Houses of Hope.
The organization provides free weeklong vacation retreats for breast cancer patients and their families, allowing them to concentrate on being more unified and living each day to its fullest. Oak Island will host a retreat this month for families of Little Pink Houses of Hope.
In its ninth year, the group hosts twenty retreats a year, all over the country and now in Costa Rica and the Virgin Islands.
“The day after I was diagnosed, I headed to the beach with my family for our annual trip, and I went for a run to come up with my Academy Award-winning speech to tell my son I had breast cancer,” Patten-Coble recalls. “That’s when I saw forty- three oceanfront houses that were abandoned (at an emptied Coast Guard compound), and I was physically struck by this heaviness, this profound, strong calling of ‘I’ve got to create a space like this for breast cancer patients.’”
Over the course of the next yearand- a-half, through chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries, the “knock, the prodding, never stopped,” she says, and Little Pink Houses of Hope was born. Its mission is “to embrace families as they are going through the difficult breast cancer journey with retreats to help them focus on celebrating life.”
Breast cancer treatment takes a physical, emotional, and financial toll on both the patient and the patient’s family. The mission of LPHOH is to provide an escape from those stresses – even if it’s just for a week.
It led her to Carolina Beach, where she asked God to give her a sign that she was making the right move. She found Kate’s Pancake House, where she told owner Kate Weiss about her idea and asked if she would help. She found the sign she had been looking for in Kate’s response.
“She threw her hands up in a ‘Touchdown!’ posture and said, ‘Yes, of course!’” Patten-Coble recalls. “I realized all I have to do is ask, and hearts will open and do what it takes to help.”
In 2011, the very first LPHOH retreat was held on Pleasure Island, and the organization has returned every year since.
“The community has been amazing. They have taken it on as their own. We have businesses in their ninth year, and they look forward to it, plan for it, and the local community really enjoys being a part of it,” says Patten-Coble, who was named a CNN Hero in 2017.
In LPHOH’S first year at Carolina Beach, Patten-Coble teamed up with Kevin Murphy of Ocean Cure to provide participants with fun experiences surfing and paddleboarding. They have been working together ever since at retreats all over the coastal Carolinas.
“We have a synergy with how we want to help people, to empower people,” Patten- Coble explains. “We are very lucky to have made that connection early on. They are really great supporters.
“When the cancer bomb has gone off in your house, and bills are piling up, and you don’t know what’s going to be covered, it is an emotional journey financially for the men, women, and families of breast cancer,” Patten-Coble adds.
Little Pink Houses of Hope receives 2,000 applications a year for its twenty retreats that typically host eleven families each with participants who are currently in the throes of cancer treatment.
Local Team Pinks spend the year creating a restorative week for families by arranging volunteers who donate homes, meals, and activities for the participants in communities such as Pleasure Island and Oak Island.
“VolunStars” are available 24-7 throughout the retreat week to ensure a comfortable and memorable experience for each family.
“Our participants feel an overwhelming sense of unconditional love from the community. The entire thing runs because local communities embrace the mission in an enormous hug,” Patten-Coble says. “It is palpable. Our families can feel it.”
And, as for Patten-Coble, she feels great, having just celebrated her tenth anniversary of being cancer free and keeping that “open-hand posture.”
“I feel blessed beyond measure,” she says, “to have a front seat to see all the goodness in the world.”
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