By Lauren Wanko
A few blocks from the water in Ocean Grove is a respite for women battling cancer — Mary’s Place by the Sea.
“The minute I walk in, I’m a different person I can leave my troubles behind,” said Marie Madden.
Founders Michele Gannon and Maria McKeon welcome women fighting any type of cancer, at any stage. Those who are in treatment or up to one year post treatment can stay up to three days, free of charge.
“We’re complimenting the medicine that they’re receiving and by taking charge and providing the healing for the emotional side of it, we feel that their medicine is working that much more effectively,” said Gannon.
Mary’s Place is open to guests seven days a week, year round. Madden has pancreatic cancer, she’s in a trial treatment.
“It’s working, it’s my hope, it’s what I can hope for,” said Madden.
The mother of four is learning calming, breathing techniques during a yoga session.
“I can allow myself to accept what’s being offered without the guilt. There’s plenty for me to do at home, but when I come here my family respects that this is my time,” Madden said.
In the kitchen, Diana Gilmore is learning how to make healthy shakes. She was diagnosed with lung cancer.
When asked what’s it like to stay at Mary’s Place, Gilmore said, “It is like it’s all about me. It’s an absolute sense of feeling yourself, feeling what journey you’re taking. This is a roller coaster and they helped me ride the waves.”
Gilmore and Madden just met. They sit side by side during a journaling session.
“Women are strong people and so to just sit, we don’t necessarily talk about cancer. We talk about our children, our life, our ups our downs but it’s so positive,” Gilmore said.
Spa rooms are upstairs, where women can relax during an oncology massage and other holistic services. Mary’s Place relies on donations and their volunteers like cancer survivor Mary Ann LaSardo — who prepares many of the fresh meals.
“Had I found a place where I could just come and not worry about anyone else but me and share my story and share my tears and fears, it would be an amazing experience. So I feel so blessed that I can do that for other women,” said LaSardo.
More than 5,000 women have visited Mary’s Place since it opened six years ago. Right now they’re booked until December because of the overwhelming response. The team is building a new handicap accessible home a few blocks from here. It will have a spa, a teaching kitchen and 10 bedroom. It’s slated to open early next year.
“My hope is that when they come to Mary’s Place they gain peace, they settle within themselves what their next day will bring,” said Gannon.
“You can only hope that when we all come here, we share our stories and we take them home and learn something from them,” said Madden.