Caring for the caregiver: Hospital Advisory Board Member hosts a retreat for moms
When Tiffany Pritchard’s 13-year-old son Jayden was diagnosed with leukemia, the working mother of four drove two hours back and forth, four days a week for several months from Chipley to Pensacola so that he could receive cancer treatment at Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola.
While there have been scary times on their cancer journey, like when Jayden was transported by air ambulance to the Children’s Hospital, Tiffany said the care team has brought comfort to their medical experience and has uplifted Jayden’s spirit. “[The team] has made it a very easy journey with all they do. The doctors are amazing. Our clinic nurse Karen has gone above and beyond to help with Jayden’s medications and [oncology social worker] Whitney has also done a lot,” she said.
There are many examples of how the care team has gone beyond their call of duty. Whitney organized a Spider-Man movie party at a local theater for Jayden, his family and friends. She also contacted Sandcastle Kids, an organization that provided the family with a week-long beach vacation. Last December, Jayden was doing so well that he returned to eighth grade.
When a family member is diagnosed with a chronic illness, families focus their energy on supporting their loved ones. Like most moms, Tiffany put everyone else’s needs first with little opportunity to recharge and renew her spirit.
That’s why in March, Tiffany was invited to join Ascension Sacred Heart Advisory Board member and cancer survivor Dawn Barton to Brian’s Retreat in Cantonment. The retreat is designed for moms with children with special needs or children who are chronically ill.
“It’s a big family farm with some horses,” said Tiffany. “No traffic, just the sounds of nature.” There, Tiffany connected with other moms coping with similar life challenges. “It’s comforting – you realize you’re not alone. You can reach out to other moms who understand. You can open up and say things you can’t say to other friends who aren’t going through the same thing,” she said.
Tiffany was among 14 participants for the two-day stay that was gifted through donations, Everything from the accommodations at a nearby hotel to items in goodie bags were donated to the group of mothers. A chauffeur drove the group from the hotel to the retreat. One of the highlights was wrapping around a crackling campfire for a fireside chat.
There were a few small-group meetings that included letting go of stereotypes, finding and loving yourself, and making time for friends. Mentors providing the talks included Dawn (a breast cancer survivor), a mother of a child with cerebral palsy and a mom who fosters several children.
Today, Jayden is looking forward to high school, plans to play basketball on a summer team and loves creating Harry Potter wands for his friends. “Jayden is a champ,” said Tiffany. “When they say cancer kids are superheroes, they mean it!”
After experiencing the benefits of Brian’s Retreat, Tiffany seeks ways to give back as a volunteer. She is considering volunteering at the Lighthouse Retreat in Destin, which offers week-long retreats to families with cancer diagnoses.