ROGUE VALLEY, Ore. — Many cancer survivors face the same question following their diagnosis and treatment — "what now?"
“Women recovering from breast cancer are in a bit of shock,” explains Patricia Miller, a breast cancer survivor.
Patricia, along with multiple other breast cancer survivors have all went through similar shocking experiences of facing the diagnosis of cancer but that isn’t all they have in common. Here in the Rogue Valley a handful of survivors have continued their treatment after all the physical check-ups are complete through Riding Beyond; a non-profit organization designed to help women recovering from breast cancer.
“I think most women are coming back around and being able to do some normal things and meet up with like-minded women, holistically minded women, much less, other survivors is normalizing,” says Patricia.
“It’s gives a totally different element to the standardize treatment venues that are available,” explains Colleen Dorr, who is also a local breast cancer survivor.
Riding Beyond uses horses and other therapeutic methods to help women cope and recover emotionally after their diagnosis. Many of the participants say the program helps restore them to a sense of normalcy and helps bring them back to themselves.
“Other sort of support groups hadn’t really done it for me,” says Colin Bunnell, a breast cancer survivor, “this was really just a different way of looking at what was important for me and my life.”
“Tears are often a part for everyone,” explains Riding Beyond Director, Trish Broersma, “they speak of having a sense of their larger story restored to them, a sense of purpose in their lives.”
Trish brought together her experience as a therapeutic riding instructor and her many years of work in human development to create the Riding Beyond program that enhances emotional healing through horses, particularly her horse Mystic.
Trish started the program after presenting at a conference in Prescott, Arizona. A woman who was also presenting at the event asked Trish to come listen in on her presentation and Trish obliged.
The woman’s presentation was about her own experience as a breast cancer survivor. She was in hospice and preparing to die when she climbed on the back of her one remaining horse and started riding, waiting for the end of her life.
To her surprise, her nurses started to notice improvements and she eventually beat the cancer. The only change she had made was getting on her horse.
“I was inspired by her story,” says Trish, “I came back home and enlisted one of my horses, Mystic.”
During training, Mystic caught on quickly, “it turns out she has a real calling for this work,” explains Trish, “I incorporated a number of other aspects for the program to go along with my experience in human development and body mass modalities and therapeutic horseback riding,” then Riding Beyond became a reality.
The heartbeat of the program is centered around survivors sharing their stories and experiences, “We use music, we use breath work, they connect to the horse and if they’re able, they get on the horse and ride the horse and experience that rhythm of the horses walk going through their body, which has a lot of neurological integration,” explains Trish, “they lie on the horses rump and experience a full body physical connection with the horse, which has a lot of physical and emotional benefits.”
“It sounds kind of amazing that all of that could happen just from sitting on the back of a horse,” says Colin Bunnell, a breast cancer survivor who has completed the Riding Beyond program, “I just think it really is quite amazing what happens and in the short time that we spent together.”
Riding Beyond doesn’t just impact the survivors who find healing but also the volunteers who walk through the process with them.
“It’s really fun to watch and it’s heartwarming to watch so I would say it probably helps the volunteers as much as it does the clients,” explains Mary Beth Watt, the Volunteer Coordinator for Riding Beyond, “To see the connection that the clients make, to see the way it impacts them, to find this connection is just beautiful.”
The Riding Beyond program is free for all breast cancer survivors and is made up of multiple sessions over a four-week period. The non-profit is funded by donations and ran by volunteers. If you would like to participate in Riding Beyond, either as a survivor or as a volunteer, you can find contact information here. If you would like to donate to the program you can find a donation link here.