Reel Healing – Melissa Hoag

 In Blog

We’re back with our April Reel Healing feature. Each month, CfR will highlight a health and wellness volunteer that serves one of our many programs including, psychosocial facilitators, medical facilitators, nutritionists and more. Meet Melissa Hoag, a Breast Health Nurse Navigator, who has served Casting for Recovery Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Long Island and Georgia. Read more below about her role at a CfR retreat and how it provides “reel” healing for breast cancer survivors and thrivers.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved with Casting for Recovery.

I have been the Breast Health Nurse Navigator for MyMichigan Health, Alma for the last 8 years.  I am a RN with 30 years of oncology experience and certified in Oncology Nursing and a Certified Breast Nurse Navigator. I have been volunteering for Michigan’s CfR for the last several years and have been lucky enough to travel to other states including Ohio, Virginia, Long Island and Georgia to volunteer as their Medical Facilitator.  The Oncology Director for our health system sent me an email about CfR that stated there was a need for a Medical Facilitator.  As soon as I went to the CfR website, I knew that I had to apply.  My passion is volunteer work and the outdoors so this seemed to be a perfect opportunity.

Melissa with another CfR Volunteer

As an Oncology nurse who volunteers at CfR retreats, why do you believe the mental health component at the retreat is so beneficial and/or necessary?

I believe that there is a general lack of mental health support for all cancer patients. It is so vital to treat all aspects of the patient’s needs including physical, emotional and spiritual (whatever that may mean to them) needs.  During cancer treatment, the emotional needs have a tendency to be overlooked and this retreat provides a safe, welcoming environment to support all aspects of healing.

What sort of health topics do you find participants ask most often about during the retreat?  

I find that most women have questions regarding intimacy, sexual health, and long term symptom management.  Often I hear that they don’t want to approach some of the more personal issues with their providers either because they are uncomfortable bringing up the topic or they feel their provider doesn’t have the time to discuss.  It is encouraged to discuss these issues as it is an important part of their quality of life and I welcome any and all questions.  More often than not, I am sought out for a one on one discussion as they feel more relaxed and are in a safe environment to discuss.

What are some of the most transformative things based around medical discussions that you have witnessed with retreat participants – as a group and/or individually?

It is amazing to see the transformation of these women as they bond and share, even on the first evening.  They compare their cancer journey, support and uplift each other and share stories, scars and tears.  It’s amazing to witness the immediate bond they develop in such a short period of time.

On the whole, why do you refer some of your patients/clients to CfR retreats? Why do you think the retreats are beneficial to women who have experienced breast cancer?

Coming from a rural area with limited support group resources, I often encourage my patients to apply for the retreat.  I feel the retreat is healing and life changing.  The friendships they develop often continue on after the retreat.  There’s few places that these survivors and thrivers can go and be with a group of like women who truly know what they have been through.  They build a bond unlike any that I have ever witnessed!  Survivorship is a lifelong process and these women often state that they feel alone after their “treatment” is completed but they still struggle with the emotional aspect of their diagnosis.  They become each other’s support, cheerleader and extended family.  It’s awe inspiring to see the transformation of these wonderful women over the weekend and to see them relax, laugh, cry and return to their “old self” even if it is only for a brief period of time. 

As you can probably tell, I truly love volunteering for CfR and feel very blessed to share a short moment in time with them!

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