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Author: Tero Isokauppila

Today I'm going to speak about something deeply personal to me. When I set out to create Four Sigmatic, it was my dream to bring the everyday magic of functional mushrooms to the greater public, and I knew part of that mission would include a charitable component. We initially helped build a school in Cambodia and plant birch trees in Russia, but our first long-term partner was Boarding 4 Breast Cancer.


Why donate to cancer?


The fact is, cancer in all its forms is far-reaching. Many of our team members here at Four Sigmatic have had close friends and family members affected by some form of the disease, and I’d wager you have, too. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States alone.


But despite the fact that cancer affects people of all ages, awareness and education of the disease, especially when related to breast cancer, is surprisingly lacking for young people.


 

At the helm of B4BC is an incredible group of strong women who have been working tirelessly since 1996. Their mission? To raise awareness through early detection and prevention while empowering young people through outreach, prevention and supportive programs, such as their Chasing Sunshine Retreats.


Inspired in part by pro-snowboarder Megan Pischke, the Chasing Sunshine Retreats are geared towards young survivors. Megan leads a team of wellness experts on these holistic retreats to connect young breast cancer survivors with “nature-based wellness and sustainability experiences that enhance their path of healing and long-term survivorship.”

 

Megan was kind enough to share her incredible journey with us, from simply leading the retreats to experiencing breast cancer firsthand and allowing that experience to further inspire the next iteration of Chasing Sunshine. Read on to meet her:

Hi Megan, could you introduce yourself? How did you first become involved with B4BC?

My name is Megan Pischke, I’m a mom of two amazing kids, live in Squamish, BC and feel lucky every single day. I’m B4BC’s Marketing & Wellness Manager.

I was inspired by B4BC in the mid-90’s while my pro-snowboarding career was taking off. I volunteered my time and efforts in fundraising and assisted in messaging the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle for over 10 years as a pro-athlete. I started doing snowboard/yoga wellness retreat weekends in 2005, and actively fundraising for the young women who were dealing with cancer to attend at no cost.

After running retreats for several years, you discovered you yourself had breast cancer. How did first-hand experience with the disease change your relationship to the retreats?

Well, to start, I was able to truly see the need and importance of supporting women post-cancer care. 

Not to mention the importance of gifting the experience to girls, as I definitely realize what a challenging, stressful time cancer "care" is financially. And there seems to be a lot of support-type systems with a diagnosis – and of course support groups during treatment – but once you’re in remission and/or done with treatment (and often never really labeled as “cured”), I still don’t see much available for young women to navigate side effects from chemos and hormonal suppressing drugs, for botched surgeries and radiation scarring, from fear and traumatization of the ever-looming recurrence percentages. And not enough life-encouraging experiences that connect survivors with other women of the same age or similar.

And of course, I can now see through their eyes. My compassion has turned to understanding, and I feel the words of what these women share. I dream of being able to support every single girl that comes to me in need of a relaxing, energizing, soulful, adventurous, healing mountain or ocean weekend.


The retreats were renamed Chasing Sunshine after the release of your film of the same name, which followed your journey with breast cancer. Why was it important for you to document that journey?

Well I certainly didn’t feel it was “important” per se to document. It started out as wanting to share a small piece about the cold capping I was going to be doing to keep my hair during 16 chemo treatments. I didn’t know if it was going to work or not, so I wanted something to share in the B4BC community.

My friend Paul filmed for me, and he started capturing my outdoor “healing” time in nature and how that contrasted with the doctor’s appointments, IV’s, scans, chemo drips and hospitals. The film was born organically with the push and support of then-Director of B4BC Erika Seward. Plus my friend Paul is efficient with his time and quiet and non-intrusive, and was of course able to let me and family go through what we needed to go through without cameras around too much.

Once finished, it definitely became something I felt important to share for the fact of realness and to show the integrated health options I chose. Although challenging with so much vulnerability and my family involved, I'm grateful for the experience.

 

The Chasing Sunshine Retreats are geared specifically towards young breast cancer survivors and patients – could you share why?

I have always felt younger women face many different challenges. And now I know especially, there is this intense feeling of “I haven’t lived enough… I haven’t fell in love yet… I wanted to have children.. I want to see my children grow.”

And again, it doesn’t matter how long you have been on earth, a cancer diagnosis is scary as heck and we all want to live through it, but I have seen so many young girls go from being healthy, active, strong and confident in their bodies and in sports – basically in their physical prime – to such debilitating places physically.

I wanted to find a way to get them back on a snowboard or skis, to face fears by paddling out into the ocean, and being in nature simply as a healing environment. To also connect them with other young women going through similar challenges, like harvesting their eggs and losing both breasts at 28 years old and haven’t had children yet. Or single young mothers, wondering how to raise children when their future is so uncertain. Or for any woman, to learn how to trust her body again physically, to get to know the "new" version of themselves physically.


What sets Chasing Sunshine retreats apart from other events geared towards survivors and current patients?

Not a lot, really. As we are all in this on a collective healing level, and the few I know of offer similar integrative healing modalities and meditation and yoga. But I can say with Chasing Sunshine, we have Megan :) Not in a bragging way of course, but I have life experience as an athlete, as a traveler and adventurer. And now as a mother and someone who not only survived breast cancer, but am finding ways to honor the experience and move past it by continually learning and letting go.

Doesn’t mean cancer doesn’t piss me off, or remind me of the heartbreak I lived for a time, but I understand the importance of being outside, finding ways in nature to connect with ourselves, create space in our lives for simplicity, find inspiration, and just be. I find the mountains and the ocean to be incredibly healing and nurturing, and this is something I want to share with others. And finding ways to fund these retreats so girls going through all this can come to experience this at no cost to them. Not everyone has a clean river and mountains or waves lapping the shore in their backyard.


This year’s winter retreat will be held in Taos, NM. Why Taos and what can attendees expect from this specific event?  

Connection with others, and I hope with themselves. Snowflakes on their nose. Educational words on healing foods and meals. Rest, and yoga and meditation. Good music. A new or new version of an old experience on snow with skiing or snowboarding, and instruction from some amazing women.

Reishi mushroom hot chocolate with chili flakes and gluten-free marshmallows, and a dash of coconut milk and cinnamon.

Acupuncture and an introduction to Chinese Medicine and its ideals – and how to infuse some into their lives – with a fabulously talented intuitive Doctor of Chinese Medicine.

Fun, laughter, and hopefully some inspiration and support in general.


What do you hope attendees take away from Taos 2018?

All of the above and a hug


Have there been any particularly memorable moments or stories that have come out of these retreats that you could share with us?

A lot! And laughter! And celebration! And many of these connections are still existing today, life long friendships for sure… But in a nutshell, I have yet for someone to leave feeling alone and uninspired.

 

 

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