Today's blog was written by Jane Fior, who recently visited Puyssentut, a retreat near Toulouse in France. Read on to hear about the amazing experience Jane had, and to see if you might fancy it yourself!
A while ago, Yes to Life drew attention to Puyssentut, a centre in France. A young couple with two small children were restoring a chateau near Toulouse, with the intention of hosting holistic retreats for people who had been diagnosed and treated for cancer. At that point they were looking for volunteers to help with the renovation.
I noticed this and kept it in mind, now and then having a look at their website and the progress of the venture but at that point having no idea that I would turn out to be an appropriate candidate.
Then at the end of 2013, I was suddenly diagnosed with colorectal cancer and had to have extensive surgery. Although I was able to resume work in May 2014, it actually took more than a year to adjust to the side effects, which include a permanent stoma. At the same time, I felt euphoric just to be alive, immensely grateful to the medical staff who had cared for me, and all my friends who had supported me.
However, about the anniversary of the diagnosis, I entered a stage which will be familiar to many, where the impact of what had happened really hit me. Euphoria vanished and a trudging reality set in. I remembered Puyssentut and wondered if I could go.
One of the challenges of having a stoma is dealing with the fear of what seemed to me to be potentially catastrophic consequences. Initially, I feared leaving the house, but then I managed to make it up the road to the local shops. After that, a little further to visit friends, and sometimes, as I got a bit bolder, even to the cinema but always positioning myself in the aisle seat. However, these sorties were always accompanied by an acute sense of anxiety, so you can understand why the idea of going all the way to France felt like a perilous undertaking.
I made contact with Angela and Dirk-Karel and was invited to join a retreat that took place this June. I was sent a comprehensive medical form to complete and was asked to ensure that I had my doctor’s permission to travel, adequate insurance and an EU health card. I found this attention to detail reassuring and began to look forward to my trip, though in an apprehensive sort of way. In the weeks before I left I began to have anxious dreams and at one point even wondered if I was going to chicken out.
Well, I didn’t do that and that as a result I have just returned from the most wonderful experience, which I urge you all to consider. I was part of a small group of people who had been dealing with various types and stages of cancer. Some were accompanied by relatives or friends, some were not. Our group consisted of both British and Dutch participants, reflecting the nationality of our hosts.
We were collected from Toulouse airport and station and driven deep into the countryside. Finally, turning off a country road flanked by fields we had our first glimpse of Puyssentut, a green-shuttered building with a central arch leading to the main courtyard. The gardens surrounding the chateau are full of wild flowers and there is a swimming pool hidden behind a hedge of bee-laden lavender.
We all had our own large rooms, each one full of light, with stone walls, a generous bed with white linen, a shower with a pebble floor and flowers on the table. Everything had clearly been chosen with care and sensibility - it felt like walking into Interiors magazine.
We all met for supper, sitting at a long table in the courtyard. Immediately a sense of solidarity allowed for instant connection. There was none of that slightly hesitant social chit chat that you might expect when meeting strangers.
Angela and Dirk-Karel, thereafter known as D-K for short (except by the Dutch guests), explained how our days would be structured, and that although much was offered, what we decided to do was entirely up to us. In other words, we had the choice of doing nothing at all if that was what was needed.
However, there were three therapists offering bodywork and massage and Angela and D-K were always on hand if you needed to talk. There was yoga every day and meditation morning and evening in the big converted barn.
Food was based on macrobiotic principles and, if like me you have tended to link macrobiotic food with pale people and brown rice, think again. It was absolutely delicious and I am now a convert.
As the week progressed, you could see how people changed as the tensions and anxieties with which they had arrived began to melt away. This can be attributed to the healing atmosphere of the place, the skill of the therapists, the effect of the food, the warmth that comes from shared confidences and above all from the unobtrusive but powerful intention of its creators who combine loving kindness and care with a sense of mischief and fun. It is truly a transformative experience.
Have a look at the Puyssentut website – there are two more retreats this year – and if you possibly can, find out for yourself just how special Puyssentut is.
Have you got an experience like Jane's that you want to share? Get in touch with us here.