THE MOUNTAIN PRESS

Area retreat brings many breast cancer patients together

By JULI WATSON NEIL Staff Writer, Aug 14, 2018 

 Jenn Dumoulin (left) and Angela Ratterman stand in front of a butterfly sculpture outside Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and Spa on Aug. 10.

Jenn Dumoulin (left) and Angela Ratterman stand in front of a butterfly sculpture outside Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and Spa on Aug. 10.

PIGEON FORGE -- Of the 35 women who traveled to Pigeon Forge for an event known as Leslie's Week, none of them knew each other - and none of them knew Leslie.

In 2011, Leslie Twohig passed away after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Shortly after her death, Leslie's Week was founded as a nonprofit. The organization provides nationwide vacations for women who are stage 4 breast cancer patients, giving them a respite from the medical appointments and daily challenges brought by cancer and its effects.

The weeklong retreats give attendees a break from the well-known adage, "There is no stage 5."

Officials with Leslie's Week selected Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and Spa for an August retreat. In all, 35 women traveled from across the country to be pampered at the resort, visit Dollywood and Splash Country, venture to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and do some shopping.

For Jenn Dumoulin, a Massachusetts native, last week was her first week in Tennessee. She was pleasantly surprised by what she found.

"I had heard that there wasn't much to do here," Dumoulin said when asked what - if anything - she had heard about Tennessee as she grew up in Massachusetts. "I pictured it as a farming area."

The mother of three - Dumoulin's children are 11, 12 and 14 years old - arrived at DreamMore with her kids and her parents. By Wednesday, they had already hiked some of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies.

"My kids and I are hiking the trail," Dumoulin said, explaining that they walk portions of the trail when they visit other states. "I absolutely love that I got to bring them."

Dumoulin said she learned of Leslie's Week from a health coordinator at her hospital back home. First diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, Dumoulin went into remission in 2015. By 2017, she was regularly sick to her stomach.

One doctor "kind of blew me off," she said. Dumoulin was later diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

What has life been like since that second diagnosis?

"It's absolutely life-changing," Dumoulin said. "There's life before and life after. ... Some of it is good, and some of it is bad. ... It (the cancer) is not going to go away. All you can do is try to find the best in it."

Of Leslie's Week, Dumoulin summed up her feelings in five words: "I don't feel so alone."

One of the other 34 attendees at last week's retreat was Angela Ratterman. The Kentucky resident didn't know any of the women before she arrived, but she knew Dumoulin and many others by week's end.

Ratterman had visited Sevier County previously on trips with her late husband.

Like Dumoulin, Ratterman has been living with some level of breast cancer for several years.

"I've been battling (cancer) for 12 years, since I was 32," Ratterman said.

Ratterman explained that she first discovered breast cancer around 2007 during a self-check. The cancer spread in 2013 to her lymph nodes, and in 2017 it metastasized to her skull.

"You can't push away that pain," Ratterman said of living with stage 4 breast cancer. "You've got to feel."

Members of her family that got to enjoy Leslie's Week with her include sisters and her two sons, who are 16 and 22 years old.

Ratterman focuses on the positive.

"I'm keeping my calendar full," she said. "I'm looking forward to doing things with the people I love.

"The fun things always continue to shine in some way. You can still control things. You can still smile. You can make a difference. You can encourage others."

One of the ways that Ratterman encourages others is by blogging about her journey with breast cancer.

"I'm confident people have been and will be touched because of this trip," said Ratterman. "I'm very grateful."

Like Dumoulin and, undoubtedly, many of her fellow retreat participants, Ratterman deals with a variety of situations in her life brought by stage 4 cancer. The Kentucky resident admitted that some days are better than others.

"I rock the good days," Ratterman said.

"Our situations aren't beautiful. If you focus on that, you're going to die sooner. I just don't have time for giving up. I don't want to give up yet. I'm still truckin' along."

Information about Leslie's Week is available at www.lesliesweek.org or 410-263-5598.

Ratterman's blog on her journey with cancer can be found at www.caringbridge.org/visit/angelaratterman.

Contact Juli at jneil@themountainpress.com or on Twitter at @NeilWatsonJ.


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