Greetings again on a beautiful spring day. Here are a couple of paragraphs about our Cancer Retreats from One Hill, Many Voices Stories of Hope and Healing elegantly written by Donna Cameron and Kristen Leathers in 2011:

“Harmony Hill’s story continues to grow with each new story, forged by the desire to live wholeheartedly, of every individual who touches and is touched by the place and the people who gather there.  The power of story is that it may heal and transform teller and listener alike.  By sharing stories from the heart – stories about our strivings, our triumphs, and defeats, our worries as well as our joys – we are reminded that we are all connected, that we matter and that we are not alone. Harmony Hill is composed of thousands of stories that continue to create and sustain one powerful intention – to heal and to restore wholeness”

“Participants in Harmony Hill’s Cancer Program find strength, resiliency, camaraderie, and healing in the retreats.  We do not provide medical treatment.  Our primary focus is on healing that happens in many different ways.  Through group sharing and support sessions, creative arts, gentle movement, and exploration of lifestyle choices and strategies, attendees gain a new perspective on their illness and tools to help them move forward to manage their health.  Equally important, the retreats provide a setting to explore feelings and questions that people with cancer often have but haven’t been able to voice in a safe and nurturing environment”

When we first started our Cancer Retreats in 1994 until about 1997 they were five days in length. Still, less than the full week that Commonweal provides however very powerful even in a slightly shorter version.  Then we had a group of wonderful oncology nurses come from Tacoma General Hospital  (now Multicare) who wanted to bring some of their patients and could only stay three days.  I was a little concerned about what we could

TGH Nurses

provide in this shorter time although we quickly learned that even 3 days was also exceedingly valuable and frankly easier for both participants and faculty to attend. The nurses brought together a whole additional group of supporters from Tacoma who wanted to help: Beauticians and owners of Hair Salons.  These amazing professionals wanted to help their clients who were coming to them to have their heads shaved when chemo was causing them to lose their hair. So once a month many of these Salons would host a free day of services in exchange for asking for donations to the HH Cancer retreats! What astounding generosity and kindness…and their clients deeply appreciated them and did all of us at HH.

John Baker

Another amazing CR Alum—John Baker who attended our very first retreat became like a brother to me in finding support for the programs. He was an attorney and went with me to a special appointment with Bill Gates Sr. I had written Bill asking his advice and he was willing to see us. We met Bill in his law office high up in a tall Seattle building. I was nervous about the meeting and had stuffed some lavender into my dress pocket which I was sniffing to calm myself down. Luckily John told me to get that lavender back in my pocket just as the elevator door opened and Mr. Gates was standing there. Bill was very cordial, kind and asked a lot of business questions…which resulted in us contracting an expert consultant to write a thorough 3-year business plan. We sent it to  Bill and returned to meet with him a couple of months later. He had read the plan thoroughly and said to us …”What do you need to get this started??”  We were not prepared to make an ask as I thought we mainly were getting his business advice which in itself was invaluable. He told me to fax him the next morning with a request….and wow was it a long night trying to come up with a figure. Our programs were all started on a shoestring budget with primarily volunteer help. So it was huge for us to request a grant of $75,000.  Bill called me the following day after he talked with Bill G 3rd and Melinda who was just kicking off their foundation.

Bill Gates Sr and Gretchen 

I wish I had been able to record the call—He said: “ Gretchen you didn’t ask for enough money…we’re going to give Harmony Hill $200,000!!… $85k this year, $65 next year, and $50 the third year; use this money to get started, get support from other donors, keep me posted, and don’t come back”! Needless to say all of the HH team, Board and I were ecstatic!  It meant we could hire faculty, and some staff to really get the Cancer program established.  I wept with joy and to this day feel such enormous gratitude for these caring generous philanthropists.


Quotes from Cancer Retreat Alums thanks donors:

  • “ It was an incredible blessing to be here. The big gift I got from Harmony Hill was the reaffirmation to be authentic, to say what I feel and to ask for what I need. These are precious gifts!.”
  • “…Thank you, Thank You! I came here knowing I had locked something up inside myself…This experience enabled me to unlock the door and see for the first time in a long time.”
  • “The experience of the retreat and the healing that happened went so deep that I carry it with me now throughout my life…the retreat gave me back my life! I’m deeply grateful.”


Thank you again for reading these notes. Your comments always appreciated.

Stay tuned for Blog 9 in the near future.  Happy Spring to all.