To many people, summer time at the Jersey shore provides a welcomed respite from the demands of everyday life. For women with cancer, however, Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove offers a comfortable place to heal any time of year.
Mary’s Place is a lakefront six bedroom Victorian home located a block from the ocean’s surf. A brainstorm of Michele Gannon, the guest house provides a safe and caring sanctuary that allows women to care for their mind, body and soul during a sometimes frightening and debilitating treatment regime of chemotherapy. All guests, mostly from the tri-state area, can stay as many as two nights, free of charge.
Michele came up with the idea of her non-profit organization in 2009, after a bout with the flu. As a mom of three children under the age of seven, Michele felt compelled to keep up with her daily parenting and household responsibilities, which ultimately slowed down her recovery. “When moms get sick, life goes on, but in order to get well, we have to allow our bodies to slow down,” Michele explains.
That “ah ha” moment made Michelle think about cancer survivors and how she could help these women. She decided to pursue an idea of offering an overnight haven that could alleviate daily stresses so they could focus on getting well and winning their battle with cancer.
Not knowing where to start to make her dream come true, Michele began to scour local cancer organizations for background. By surfing the Internet, she came across friend, Maria McKeon, a cancer support fund-raiser from the local area. “I approached Maria with my idea and she said, ’let’s do it'."
Without much experience but a lot of determination, the dynamic duo started to pound the pavement looking for houses to lease and funds to help support their dream. They opened the doors of their first home in May 2009.
Local merchants came forward to offer free services and Dean's Natural Food Market now provides a monthly food stipend for organic meals what that are cooked at the house. "We focus on integrative wellness, and a big part of that is eating healthy during and after treatment,” Michele explains.
Over time, the two co-founders enlisted other assistance to offer a full range of services that provide an innovative approach to caring with women with cancer. “We offer individual oncologicalmassage, guided meditation, nutritional counseling, spa services, yoga, group workshops and overall support,” says Michele. “Journal writing is another big part of their stay because it’s a great way to unload deep rooted fears and feelings."
Besides caring for women with cancer, Mary’s Place offers support for the entire family. “We plan to provide children’s yoga and cooking classes, and give general guidance on how to help mom through her battle. Counseling for both children and spouses are currently available.”
Today, Michele and Maria work with over 200 volunteers who provide support for Mary’s Place. Not only are they raising money for every day operating expenses, they have also initiated a major campaign to help them purchase the home they now rent. For example, a song called “Raise the Roof” was specially produced for Mary’s Place and is available on iTunes with proceeds going to support their efforts.
Michele explains how she keeps her enthusiasm and positive attitude for her long range goal of purchasing the present house. “We get many notes of thanks after our guests leave. One letter, in particular, has stuck with me and I keep it close at hand as a reminder of why we all do this.
A part of the note goes like this: ‘When I came to Mary’s Place, I was broken, fragile and [very sick]. When I left, I felt empowered and strong. I was ready to heal.’
Letters like these keep us motivated very day. We hope to inspire a healing center in every major city.”
Since opening its doors, Mary’s Place has provided support to 700 families with many more to come through word of mouth advertising. For more information on Mary’s Place By the Sea, or to find out how you can donate, go to http://www.marysplacebythesea.org/