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Maui Cancer Wellness Retreat — A place of rejuvenation, transformation and hope

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Sep 12, 2019

Dr. Bridget Bongaard, M.D., is a Board-Certified Internal Medicine physician who completed her Fellowship Training at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. As a Hospice-certified medical director, she has used this knowledge to set up numerous Integrative Oncology programs. Partnering with the Pacific Cancer Foundation, Bongaard co-founded the first annual Maui Cancer Wellness Retreat. PHOTO BY CINDY SCHUMACHER.

NAPILI – The third annual Maui Cancer Wellness Retreat (MCWR) is coming up Sept. 20-22, 2019 at Napili Kai Beach Resort. Dr. Bridget Bongaard and a staff of expert presenters are offering a weekend of educational activities, including up-to-date information on ways for cancer patients to heal body, mind and soul.

Dr. Bongaard is a board-certified internal medicine physician with a post-doctoral fellowship in integrative medicine. The retreat is designed to help cancer survivors with any diagnosis transform their lives into a new and better level of health and wellness.

“Integrative medicine looks at all angles to solve problems,” Bongaard explained. “My approach to wellness is a three-dimensional process: physical, emotional and spiritual. When one has the power of information to make changes, the results become apparent quickly. Best of all, the clarity of what it takes to be well and healthy is not only for the cancer survivor but can be shared with everyone. The ripple effect of building community, having support and being able to care for ‘self’ is massive.”

MCWR, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, provides the learning tools and cutting-edge approach to the healing process for cancer survivors and their families to use. The concept of the MCWR was born from the understanding that cancer survivors need time and space away from all duties and routines of their lives to be able to focus on themselves and gain insight.

All the sessions and materials used over the weekend have a scientific basis: nutrition as related to cancer wellness; illness prevention; creation of resilience and hardiness; relaxation therapy; art therapy; movement therapy through yoga, qigong and hula; epigenetics; psycho-immunobiology (the study of how our emotions and thoughts influence our immune system); and more. It is sharing a healing journey of rejuvenation, transformation and hope with people walking the same path.

“There is so much we can do with this knowledge to help ourselves heal,” said Bongaard. “Participants will have a unique opportunity to take time for themselves, interact with other survivors and learn ways to heal through these numerous modalities. Also, they have the opportunity to compare medical experiences with other cancer patients, which is a gold mine of information. They make friends that they can see regularly in a weekly meditation circle, and they become part of the cancer patient healing community.”

Gigi, a MCWR participant who had been given news that she had metastatic cancer in her spine, said, “I was so happy to attend the retreat. It was exactly what I needed. In fact, it surpassed my expectation. Dr. Bongaard’s instructions, based on scientific research and her ability to facilitate authentic discussions on what we’re going through, taught us how we can transform our difficulties into healing and strength. These lessons are beyond valuable in going forward into my new normal”.

Christy from Napili offered her thoughts on the MCWR.

“The timing couldn’t have been better, as I had just finished four grueling months of chemotherapy and was a week away from surgery. My favorite part was meeting fellow cancer survivors, hearing their stories and feeling inspired by their strength. It was truly a life-changing experience amidst the life-changing experience that is cancer.”

Flaviana from Molokai offered how privileged she was to have been selected as a delegate to MCWR from Molokai’s Support Cancer Group.

“Dr. Bongaard and members of the staff were very helpful,” she said. “They met the physical, material and spiritual needs of the attendees, in addition to offering valuable advice to help survivors make wise decisions. The events and workshops equipped and empowered us with strategies and skills of hope, courage and a positive attitude to persevere. Furthermore, the peaceful, verdant atmosphere is so appropriate for such an awesome retreat.”

Maui resident Rev. Heather Mueller added, “When I heard about MCWR for people with cancer to be given an opportunity to experience a retreat of this nature, I knew that it is something I wanted to support. Dr. Bongaard, who spearheaded the project, is passionate about her commitment, as well as the group of people who gathered to raise funds for retreat scholarships.”

The Rotary Club of Maui, to which Bongaard and Mueller belong, came into the challenge of raising money to help make the MCWR possible. Last April, with 90 guests in attendance, the Royal High Tea & Garden Tour, featuring a tour of Lona Ridge, raised $30,000 to help cancer survivors attend this year’s MCWR at Napili Kai Beach Resort.

Bongaard recognizes that this kind of experiential retreat is not available elsewhere in Hawaii. The only one that is similar is the Weekend of Hope in Stowe, Vermont, drawing 1,500 cancer survivors and caregivers annually, which has been ongoing for 18 years. It is a collaboration between the University of Vermont, the Vermont Oncology groups and local businesses.

“Looking at this model, our goal for the future is to create one large yearly retreat on Maui, inviting all Hawaiians to attend,” said Bongaard. “We hope to collaborate with the University of Hawaii, the Department of Health, Hui No Ke Ola Pono and other important agencies that provide health education dedicated to shift the onslaught of cancer in our islands to health and wellness.”

Actually, MCWR eventually hopes to expand the program to offer four retreats a year. “We have a very high rate of cancer here due to several large populations genetically at risk,” Bongaard noted. “We want to improve the outcomes of our ‘ohana with education on cancer prevention, as well as focusing on teaching the science of self-care, which also provides better health and longevity. We wish to reach the underserved as well, and therefore have one retreat on the West Side, and in the future as funding permits, one in Hana and one on Molokai.”

There is an excellent online self-help cancer wellness learning interactive tool for the public to use. Dr. Bongaard collaborated, researched and wrote the section on psycho-oncology. Visit CanHEAL at deptmedicine.arizona.edu/.

To learn more about the MCWR or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, contact Dr. Bongaard at bbongaard@gmail.com or call (704) 577-0171.