Meet the Woman Who Is Helping Others Take a Vacation from Breast Cancer
In 2009, Jeanine Patten-Coble was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at just 39 years old. After receiving the devastating news, Patten-Coble didn’t give up. No, she dug her heels in—both literally and figuratively—and went for a run the very next day. It was on this run, off the beaten track, where she found her true purpose and calling in the midst of her biggest trial yet.
"I went for a run to figure out the right words to tell my 11-year-old son that I had been diagnosed," Patten-Coble told Southern Living. "My biggest fear was that I was going to take his innocence away and his life would be forever changed as soon as those words came out of my mouth. But when I was least expecting it, God showed up in a big and powerful way in my life."
That sign came in the form of an abandoned compound that Patten-Coble discovered on her run along the beach. She later learned that the grouping of empty and shabby houses was actually a Coast Guard compound that had been deserted five years earlier.
"It really piqued my interest and provided a great distraction," Patten-Coble said. "I thought, what is this place? As I was running away from the compound, I literally was struck with a calling to create a place like this for cancer patients."
Throughout the course of the year, Patten-Coble underwent treatment, which included six months of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. She did this while simultaneously implementing her plans to start a breast cancer retreat for those going through a similar experience. These plans would later turn into the national nonprofit recognized today as Little Pink Houses of Hope, an organization started in 2011 that provides peaceful havens at no cost to those battling breast cancer.
Little Pink Houses of Hope serves women and men in 48 states (yes, even Canada), and Patten-Coble also hosts several retreats in the South, including North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. To date, Little Pink Houses of Hope has given respite to more than 600 families. Read on for more of Patten-Coble's story on hope, faith, and purpose, and how these beachside destinations are providing joy to families during their darkest hours.
Finding Purpose Through Pain
The premise of Little Pink Houses of Hope is simple: to "promote breast cancer recovery by offering opportunities for survivors to reconnect and celebrate life." Eleven families attend the retreat and are treated to a free (yes, free!) week-long getaway at the destination of their choice. Some coastal locales in the South include Ocean City, Maryland; Key West, Florida; Hatteras Island, North Carolina; Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Orange Beach, Alabama; Oak Island, North Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Patten-Coble, however, added that in the next four years she plans to increase the amount of retreats to serve the needs of the mass influx of attendees. By 2018, she hopes to have 18 different retreats in 18 different locations, including Dallas and Austin, Texas.
"The story of Little Pink Houses is really one of acceptance," Patten-Coble (pictured middle in the photo above) said. "Acceptance of the disease I had, acceptance of God’s calling for me, and acceptance of a purpose and a mission in my life that I was not expecting at all."
Creating a Support Network
The retreats are open to the patient's spouse and children, and each family is partnered with a volunteer to assist them with their basic needs. For women like Tiffany Lowery (pictured above), who is a retreat attendee from Grand Prairie, Texas, the retreats take away the isolation experienced by breast cancer survivors and those undergoing treatment.
"They develop this amazing support network during the week of their retreat, and we have families that stay in contact long after the retreat," Patten-Coble said.
Tiffany Lowery, Retreat Attendee
"During our retreat, Little Pink Houses of Hope gave me the blessing of meeting new people whom now I am bounded with for life," Lowery wrote in an email to Southern Living. "Families are able to forget about their diagnosis of breast cancer and enjoy life. One of the greatest feelings during our retreat was enjoying my husband and just feeling free of worries!"
Tiffany Lowery, Retreat Attendee
Scenic views like the one pictured behind Tiffany Lowery are just one of the many things to explore at these retreats.
A Vacation Paradise Retreat-Goers Won't Soon Forget
"It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime trip," said Patten-Coble. "For most of the families that come, it would be financially difficult for them to afford it. It’s also difficult when you’re going through cancer treatment to prioritize a vacation, especially not knowing what lies ahead in the near future."
A Chance to Heal, A Time for Fun
Each family welcomed into their own fully-stocked, luxury vacation home with meals provided. They're also able to participate in various activities to give them a much-needed distraction away from treatment and surgeries. Some of the family-friendly activities include paddle boarding, boat rides, trips to the nearby water park, and fun date nights for couples.
"When that cancer bomb goes off in your house, that’s where we come in to offer you some peace, comfort, and a chance to reconnect with your family," said Patten-Coble. "It's really important to surround yourself with people who understand, because oftentimes, it's the best way to cure yourself of feeling so alone."
How to Apply
According to Patten-Coble, approximately 3,000 men and women apply to Little Pink Houses of Hope each year. Of the applications received, Patten-Coble gives priority to those who are currently undergoing treatment. From there, applicants self-select which retreat they'd like to attend based on their preferences and schedule. The organization then works to match each family with the appropriate beachside dwelling. Down the line, she hopes to expand her business model to include other groups battling ovarian, cervical, and other female-related cancers.
How to Get Involved
Patten-Coble explained that everyone's unique talents and gifts are welcomed at her retreats, whether it's time, monetary donations, gift cards, prayer cards, goods and services, or homes. In the past, volunteers, both old and young, have knitted quilts and blankets for the attendees, cooked for them, taken their photos, and colored placemats. Those who have stayed at the retreats often come back to volunteer.
"We have 11 families who come, and they show up not knowing the community or the people staying there," Patten-Coble said. "There’s an outpouring of giving in the local communities where we do the retreats. It's an amazing experience for them to see that there are people out there thinking about them and helping them long before they arrive. That's been a big part of the success of our organization—connecting those who donate with the people they're serving."
To donate or learn more about volunteer opportunities, check out the "How to Help" section on Little Pink Houses of Hope's website.
Struck by Hope
"The people who come and share their family with our organization and the people who donate all have a story," Patten-Coble said. "To be intricately woven into other people’s story is an amazing gift for me. As a cancer survivor, it has given me a way to give back to the community and it’s also given me an amazing purpose. Although I started it, it’s about all the people who have come on board since the very beginning."
Purchase Patten-Coble's book, Struck by Hope, to learn more about her story. Released in October, the book chronicles Patten-Coble's diagnosis and Little Pink Houses of Hope.