Mom Who Beat Breast Cancer Gives Free Vacations to Patients and Their Families to Make 'Priceless Memories'

For the past 12 years, breast cancer survivor Jeanine Patten-Coble has created getaways for thousands of other patients and loved ones

Jeanine Patten-Coble created if offering free vacations for Breast Cancer families. Jeanine loving life.
Jeanine Patten-Coble. Photo: Little Pink Houses of Hope

One day after being diagnosed with an aggressive, malignant tumor in her right breast in June 2009, Jeanine Patten-Coble went for a run on a North Carolina beach during her family's annual vacation.

Amidst the sound of surf and seagulls, Patten-Coble, then 39, was searching for the "perfect words" to share her devastating news with her son Jake, then 11.

"I was just trying to come up with the Academy Award-winning speech to tell my kid that this is what was happening," she says, "and just trying to wrap my head around it all at the same time."

Then she stumbled upon an abandoned beachfront property filled with dozens of quaint but empty houses — and it led to an epiphany.

"As I was turning to run back to where we were staying," the former high school history teacher recalls in this week's PEOPLE, "I realized, 'You've got to create a place like this where cancer patients can relax.' "

A year later — after Patten-Coble had successfully completed her chemo and radiation therapy — her beachside reverie became reality and has gone on to impact thousands of people.

The Burlington, N.C., resident convinced property management companies and private homeowners across the nation to donate homes, townhouses and condos for free weeklong retreats where breast cancer patients, along with their husbands and kids, can escape the daily burden of medical appointments and worries over healthcare bills.

"For many of our families," says Patten-Coble, 53, "this could possibly be their last vacation."

Over the past 12 years, she and a network of volunteers with her nonprofit — Little Pink Houses of Hope — have provided vacations, with food and activities like zip-lining, for nearly 2,000 families.

"We create an environment where they no longer feel so isolated," she says. "Walking alongside them as they create priceless memories is such a privilege."

For more on Jeanine Patten-Coble, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Jeanine Patten-Coble created if offering free vacations for Breast Cancer families. Courtney Provost, Sept 2022, Mystic CT
Jeanine Patten Coble with Courtney Provost during a retreat in Mystic, Connecticut, in September. Little Pink Houses of Hope

The retreats are exactly what cancer patients — and their families — need during their healthcare battles. Charlotte-area youth track coach Toshika Hudson-Canon, 43 — who was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer in January and spent a week at a beachside home on Emerald Isle, N.C., in August with her three kids and husband — found the getaway was relaxing and transformative.

"It was life-changing," she says, "especially for my children, who became friends with other children in the same situation."

In addition to providing retreats, Patten-Coble is focused on raising the funds needed to cover the one expense Little Pink Houses doesn't pay for: transportation to their getaways.

"Thirteen years after they told me I wasn't going to make it, I'm still here," she says. "God had way bigger plans for me than letting me go."

To learn more about Little Pink Houses of Hope, click here.

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