Outdoors, in mid-January, the temperatures reminded that it was still wintertime. Yet indoors, standing in a pool of sunlight, the woman in her 50's with a towel wrapped in a turban around her head had a smile on her face. She held up her newly manicured nails for everyone to see.
Her hands with red-tipped nails, were graceful, and her cheeks had a radiant glow. Yes she was a cancer patient, who had lost her hair while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, yet in this moment she was Queen for the Day.
And she was not alone. She was surrounded by a "sisterhood" of 10 women who were undergoing cancer treatment at the Ventura County Medical Center in California. They had been invited to take part in a free, three-day transformational retreat called InnCourage at the Lavender Inn.
Many of these women would be considered "under-served," that is, at home they might be facing personal or financial challenges that would make it difficult for them to pay for, or take time off to enjoy such a personal attention.
Over the three days, they would be welcomed at pajama party breakfasts, pampered with manicures, pedicures, massages, and facials, and be invited on mid-day walks in the garden and on local trails. In the spacious kitchen at the Lavender Inn, they could participate in healthy cooking classes using fresh fruits and vegetables provided by local farmers, and prepare meals for each other. Individual counseling and group therapy sessions were interwoven with nap times. In the evenings, they were treated to fine dining at nearby restaurants and fireside chats back at the Inn.
Now in its fifth year, InnCourage is the inspiration of Kathy Hartley, owner of the Lavender Inn. She realized how important it is for people who have been diagnosed with cancer, or who are undergoing treatment, to stay connected to community, family and friends after her own father had cancer. He is a cancer survivor, and she says it was the support they received at the City of Hope in Duarte, Calif., that made her want to do something like this at her inn.
This May, Harley is hosting a 5th Year Reunion luncheon at the Lavender Inn for cancer survivors who have participated in one of her InnCourage retreats during the past five years. The first year, she pretty much paid for the program herself. Now, she relies on donations and small grants from individuals and organizations in the community to help cover the costs.
Hartley plans to share what she has learned with other spa owners and inn keepers. "We all have times of the year when business is slow, and a place with a bed and breakfast type of atmosphere is more conducive to this type of retreat than a hotel or conference center." The ability for it to be close-knit, she says, is crucial to its success.
Alexia Parks is co-founder of a new school of thought based on The Power of 10 -- the 10 TRAITS™ of Women.