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Breast cancer patients empowered at retreat in Hancock woods

Union Leader Correspondent

August 12. 2013 7:04PM
At last year’s Betty J. Borry Breast Cancer Retreats adventure weekend at Nature’s Classroom at Sargent Center in Hancock board president Christine Landry, left, and Cynthia Cote, executive director, discuss the high ropes course their participants are being challenged with. (COURTESY)

The Betty J. Borry Breast Cancer Retreats, which was started in Hancock 18 years ago, was honored at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center’s annual fundraiser, The One Hundred.

The New Hampshire nonprofit was one of 100 individuals and groups honored at the event this June.

The award honors those “whose diligence and discoveries, philanthropy and passion have helped advance the fight against cancer.”

Money raised at the gala support research, patient care, education and community outreach programs.

Cynthia E. Cote of Durham, president and executive director of the Betty J. Borry Breast Cancer Retreats, accepted the award, but said Friday the award really belongs to Borry, who started the retreats in 1995 with the help of Ellen Moran of Hancock.

Moran was then the manager at the Eastern Mountain Sports store in Peterborough and had often helped Borry find just the right outdoor gear.

So when Borry had a breast cancer reoccurrence, she asked Moran to help her plan an Outward Bound-type weekend for women like herself.

Borry passed away in 2001, but not before ensuring the retreats would continue.

“When Betty passed in 2001 she really wanted this to be something that continued. She believed so strongly in the power of women helping women,” Cote said.

The retreats are for women of all ages and stages of their breast cancer and are centered around outdoor activities.

Cote, who attended the first retreat in 1995, said her breast cancer journey was forever changed after the first retreat and the adventure challenges she and the other women over came.

“It was very empowering for a lot of us cause we thought if we’ve gone through that and we’ve learned through that we don’t have to stay as a breast cancer survivor or someone whose life has been turned upside down. We can be anything we want to in our lives, despite our fears or our anger,” Cote said.

Cote loved it so much, she’s returned year after year.

“We are there for an entire weekend. ... We have the opportunity to share and to talk and tell our stories, but we do it in a way that it’s active and it’s outside and being together. It’s a total break from your life, no cooking, no cleaning, no taking care of kids,” Cote said. “It was truly a retreat from our life of treatment diagnosis.”

At the first retreat Cote was inspired by the women she met, but was also challenged. She had never been in a kayak before nor did she think she would find herself 40-feet up on a platform for a high ropes challenge.

Cote was weak from recently finishing her treatment and could have bowed out of more difficult challenges and opted for a quiet walk in the woods, but was inspired to rise to the occasion and she did, she said.

The adventure-based program mirrored the challenges the women had faced in their diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, Cote said.

Because of the success of the first retreat it continued every year, and now the nonprofit runs three retreats a year, two in the fall and one in the winter.

Registrations are now open for the 2013 Adventure Weekend at Nature’s Classroom at Sargent Center in Hancock and the Breast Cancer Fall Retreat 2013 in the Berkshires foothills of Western Massachusetts, both of which take place Oct. 4, 5 and 6.

Scholarships are available. Learn more online

Health Hancock Photo Feature