The New Jersey mother s waterfront home has been a retreat for more than 2,000 women across the country
Credit: Courtesy of Mary's Place by the Sea

Michele Gannon knows what it’s like to be sick and unable to care for yourself, let alone your children.

In 2009, while recovering from an ongoing, debilitating illness, her doctor put her on bed rest for several weeks.

“My kids would say, ‘Are you better now? Now? Now?’ ” says Gannon, 45, of Interlaken. N.J. “When I did surface, I just saw my whole world, my well-oiled machine, was broken down and that led to depression.”

“I said to myself, ‘I wonder what a woman does when she has a long-term illness like cancer?’ ” she says.

She quickly discovered there weren’t many places available for women to escape and relax, so later that year she and a friend, Maria McKeon, founded Mary’s Place by the Sea, a retreat in Ocean Grove, N.J. where women with cancer can get everything from oncological massages to nutrition counseling during their stay.

“It’s life changing,” says Gannon, “because you learn in your own way not to get worried about the small things that you used to worry about and just put things into perspective.”

Linda Brinkmann, 59, agrees.

“I walked in and I got the greatest sense of comfort and love and compassion that you could ever imagine,” says Brinkmann, of Westfield, N.J., who has peritoneal cancer.

“For someone that’s dealing with cancer and is scared to death,” she says, “and needs someone just to hold them and love them and give them faith and hope, these women are incredible.”

Volunteers, many of them cancer survivors themselves, help staff the retreat, which is housed in a three-story, six-bedroom Victorian house that faces a lake and is one block west of the ocean.

Beth Hahn choked up when describing her experiences at the home.

“There is so much love in that place,” says Hahn, 40, who was in the midst of chemotherapy for inflammatory breast cancer when she went the first time in May 2012.

“You have to go to truly understand how full of love it is,” says Hahn, of Shippensburg, Pa.

But Gannon says she’s the lucky one.

“I always say that I get more than I give,” she says. “Every woman who comes in has so much courage.”

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