July 2001

Grant Results


From 1997 to 2000, staff at the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation established a retreat program for breast cancer survivors and conducted a pilot study of the retreat's effectiveness.

Key Results

  • From September 1997 through October 1998, project staff conducted 10 five-day retreats, which:
    • Engaged nearly 200 breast cancer survivors in challenging activities.
    • Taught participants techniques for achieving health and wellness.
    • Helped participants develop spiritual awareness.

Key Findings
Findings from the pilot study included the following:

  • Study participants reported significant improvement in overall adjustments to cancer, body image and overall mental health.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded this project through two grants totaling $99,920 — one for the start-up of the retreat and the other for the pilot study.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
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The connection between mind and body in healing has been the subject of many books, papers, and symposia. Studies of women with breast cancer indicate that emotional attitudes are significant in predicting longevity after diagnosis and treatment. In one long-term study reported in The Lancet in 1985, for example, 70 percent of patients who had a "fighting spirit" were still alive (with or without metastases) 10 years later, compared with 25 percent of those who stoically accepted the disease.

Grant ID# 032909

The first grant (ID# 032909) from RWJF provided start-up funding to the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation (BCRF), a Madison, Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization, to establish breast cancer survivor retreats/camps that help women develop mind-body healing techniques and a "fighting spirit."

The program, called the Infinite Boundaries Retreats, was designed to help women from four Midwestern states (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) at any point in their treatment (except immediately after surgery) or in the post-treatment phase to increase quality of life as well as longevity. Situated on an island in Lake Superior — a natural setting conducive to contemplation, meditation, and healing — the camps provided a complete getaway from the "disease environment." RWJF funds supported personnel, office operations, travel, meetings, and videotape development and production.

From September 1997 through October 1998, BCRF conducted 10 five-day retreats, which engaged nearly 200 breast cancer survivors in challenging activities, taught them techniques for achieving health and wellness, and helped them develop spiritual awareness. BCRF used grant funds to hire an outreach specialist to contact women diagnosed with breast cancer, especially medically underserved women. Every participant received some level of financial assistance to help her attend the retreats.

The retreats focused on three key components:

  • Engaging participants in challenging physical or artistic activity. Activities included sailing, canoeing, pottery, and painting. The objective of these activities was to extend participants' physical or artistic limits and broaden their horizons.
  • Teaching techniques for achieving health and wellness. Good nutrition was taught and encouraged, and speakers and group discussion leaders focused on women's health, mind-body healing, and the latest on breast cancer research and treatment.
  • Developing spiritual awareness. A number of projects and experiences were built into the retreats to foster greater personal (non-religious) spirituality in the cancer survivors. Projects including the making of prayer flags with the names of friends, loved ones, and family members who had died of breast cancer.

Other Funding

Other sources of funding for the retreats and the work of the BCRF included the following:

  • Dean Health Plan, $110,000
  • Lands End, Inc., $75,000
  • Pleasant Frautchi, $23,000
  • Alliant Foundation, $25,000
  • Frautschi Foundation, $7,000
  • Elmer Leach Foundation, $10,000
  • Cardinal Stritch Theatre Department, $5,000
  • Thousand Hills Foundation, $5,000
  • Komen Race for the Cure, $10,000

Grant ID# 035721

A follow-up grant (ID# 035721) allowed BCRF to conduct a pilot study to examine the impact of this intervention on women living with breast cancer. The study was designed to examine the effects of participating in a breast cancer recovery retreat. Specifically, the study sought to determine the effects of psychosocial interventions on the following:

  1. The immune system, as indicated by saliva samples (taken to measure cortisol, an indicator of overall immune functioning).
  2. Quality of life.
  3. Persistence of benefits beyond the period of the intervention.
  4. Coping strategies used by participants after the intervention.

The University of Wisconsin Medical School Department of Psychiatry's Health Emotions Research Institute collaborated in the study by administering pre- and post-retreat surveys and collecting saliva samples (immediately before the retreat, immediately afterwards, and subsequently every three months for one year) and by conducting data analysis. By the close of the grant period, 161 women had participated in the study.

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Findings - ID# 035721

In a report to RWJF, the project director reported the following findings based on an analysis of data collected on 56 study participants, immediately before and after retreats:

  • Study participants reported significant improvement in overall adjustments to cancer, body image, and overall mental health. Specific changes included feeling less sick, improved relations with family and doctors, feeling less nervous about the entire cancer process, improved ability to enjoy leisure pursuits, and more contentment with overall quality of life. Study participants also reported less concern about their appearance, less anxiety, greater comfort with their bodies, and significant increases in positive effect.
  • Researchers noted no changes in salivary cortisol level among study participants. This component of the research was abandoned in July 2000.


During the first grant, more than 1,100 news release packets were mailed to newspapers and radio and television stations to publicize the retreats and to reach prospective participants. BCRF also produced an informational brochure on the project. Seven articles about BCRF and the retreats appeared in area newspapers, and one of the retreats was filmed for local television. Project staff made presentations at 9 professional meetings and provided exhibits for display at 12 others.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin are seeking publication for an article they have written on findings under the second grant. BCRF's Web site was created during the second grant. See the Bibliography for details.

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BCRF continues to offer retreats and to collect and analyze data on their impact. It plans to use findings from the pilot study to attract funding for a more definitive study on the impact of psychosocial support interventions on survivorship and the physical and emotional health of women with breast cancer.

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Study of Effects of a Retreat on Breast Cancer Survivors


Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation (Madison,  WI)

  • Establishment of Breast Cancer Survivor Camps
    Amount: $ 49,943
    Dates: November 1997 to January 1999
    ID#:  032909

  • Pilot Study of the Biological and Psychosocial Health Benefits of Particiption in a Retreat for Women with Breast Cancer
    Amount: $ 49,977
    Dates: June 1999 to May 2000
    ID#:  035721


Barbara McCarthy
(608) 821-1140
Linda L. Hardy (deceased)
Sue Abitz
(608) 821-1140

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)


Woods TE, Schneider K, Mullen B, Kolden GG and Strauman TS. "Participation in a three-day retreat attenuates anxiety and depression in women with breast cancer." Unpublished.

Brochures and Fact Sheets

"Caring for You." Dean Medical Center, November 1997.

Sponsored Workshops

Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation Infinite Boundaries Retreats, November 1, 1997 to January 31, 1999.

  • December 12–14, 1997, Ashland, Wis.
  • January 11–14, 1998, Big Sky, Mont.
  • February 26–March 1, 1998, Bailey's Harbor, Wis.
  • May 21–24, 1998, Madeline Island, Lake Superior, Wis.
  • May 31–June 4, 1998, Madeline Island, Lake Superior, Wis.
  • July 23–26, 1998, West Bend, Wis.
  • August 6–9, 1998, Madeline Island, Lake Superior, Wis.
  • September 17–20, 1998, Madeline Island, Lake Superior, Wis.
  • September 24–17, 1998, Madeline Island, Lake Superior, Wis.
  • October 29–November 1, 1998, Spring Green, Wis.

Presentations and Testimony

Project staff, "Women's Cancer Conference" (exhibit), at Meriter Hospital, March 14, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, "Women's Health Conference" (exhibit), at the Wisconsin Women's Health Foundation, April 14, 1998, Milwaukee, Wis.

Project staff, "Breast Cancer Conference" (exhibit), at the American Cancer Society, Milwaukee, Wis., April 18, 1998.

Linda Hardy and Jean Scott, "Infinite Boundaries Retreat Program," at the 37th Annual Conference, American Cancer Society, April 20, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, "First Annual Wisconsin Rural Health Conference" (exhibit), at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, April 22–23, 1998, Wausau, Wis.

Ann Haney, "Infinite Boundaries Retreat Program," at the Spring Education Program, Attic Angel Association, May 13, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, "Race for the Cure Event" (exhibit), at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, May 30, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, "House for the Cure" (exhibit), June 12–17, 1998, Milwaukee, Wis.

Project staff, "Breast Cancer Benefit Concert" (exhibit), July 10, 1998, Milwaukee, Wis.

Jean Scott, "Infinite Boundaries Retreat Program" at Menomonee Falls Hospital Breast Cancer Support Groups Meeting, July 27, 1998, Menononee Falls, Wis.

Linda Hardy and Jean Scott, at the "Breast Cancer Benefit," St. Elizabeth Hospital, August 3, 1998, Appleton, Wis.

Project staff, "Women's Health Fair" (exhibit), Wisconsin Public Television, August 15, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, Theatre Benefit for the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation at Cardinal Stritch College (exhibit), October 1–4, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, "Day of Celebration — Kickoff to Breast Cancer Awareness month" (exhibit), October 3, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, "Sixth Annual Evening for Women" (exhibit), at the Mercy-Oakwood Medical Center, October 13, 1998, Oshkosh, Wis.

Jean Scott, "New Members — Introduction to Breast Cancer Service," at Junior League of Madison, October 27, 1998, Madison, Wis.

Project staff, Conference of American Association for Cancer Education (exhibit), November 6–9, 1998, Portland, Ore.

Linda Hardy, "The Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation," at Griefwork Class, Marquette University, January 16, 1999, Milwaukee, Wis.

Teresa E. Woods, Ph.D., "Depression and Anxiety are Lowered when Women Participate in a Three-Day Retreat," at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Education, October 7–10, 1999, Cleveland, Ohio.

Project staff, Oncology Grand Rounds at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, October 1999, Madison, Wis.

Teresa Woods, "Participation in Retreats Attenuates Suppression and Anxiety in Women in Breast Cancer," at the Sharing the Knowledge: A Scientific and Community Education Project Presenting the Psychosocial Needs of Breast Cancer Survivors Conference, September 21, 2000, Madison, Wis.

Print Coverage

"Beyond the Scars," Caring for You, November 1997.

Article on the Infinite Boundaries Retreat, The Daily Press, Ashland, Wis., on November 15, 1997.

Article on the Infinite Boundaries Retreat, Washburn County Register, Washburn, Wis., January 15, 1998.

Article on the Infinite Boundaries Retreat, Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wis., May 30, 1998.

"Cancer: Retreats Challenge Women," The Green Bay News-Chronicle, July 17, 1998.

"Madeline Island Retreat Cures What Ails Her Soul," The Community Herald, Monona, Wis., December 24, 1998.

Article on the "Infinite Boundaries" Retreat, The Eagle Herald, Oconto, Wis., in January 1999.

Radio Coverage

Live Interview with Jean Scott on Infinite Boundaries Retreats, WMLI-FM 96.3, Madison, Wis., December 28, 1998.

Television Coverage

"Contact," Infinite Boundaries Retreats, Jesuit Productions, June 18, 1998.

Retreat filmed, Green Bay's Fox 11-TV, September 24–26; program aired October 6, 1998.

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Report prepared by: Marilyn Gross
Report prepared by: Robert Crum
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Karyn Feiden
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Program Officer: Nancy J. Kaufman

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