Healing Circles & Retreats

The impulse to share the healing experience—to help others face what we have faced—is built into the human psyche. As Rachel Naomi Remen puts it, “We heal in community.”

Dear Friend

We believe you have within you the potential to change and, sometimes, to transform the experience of living with cancer. The power of your intention to heal is the most precious resource you bring to intentional healing work.

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Dear Friend

The special power of Healing Circles and the Commonweal Cancer Help Program is that we can do this together, in a circle of equally dedicated participants and staff, and without any distractions from the outside world. Our individual healing work also benefits us profoundly when we are committed to the healing of those on the journey with us.

Our approach in Healing Circles and the Cancer Help Program is not the only way. You may find other outstanding circles where people come together to heal with cancer. True healing circle work requires wise agreements about ground rules, experienced facilitation, and strong bonds of group safety and trust.

Helping others with intentional healing is an ancient art, reborn in every age. The impulse to share the healing experience—to help others face what we have faced—is built into the human psyche. As Rachel Naomi Remen puts it, “We heal in community.” For many people, a key dimension of healing is to work in a circle of companions who share your wound and share your strong intention to find healing.

The best way to help others heal is not to tell them what they should do. Rather, you start with generous listening. As Parker Palmer, the great Quaker educator, puts it: Do not advise them. Do not try to fix them. Do not tell them what they should do. Do not try to be wise or show off your expertise in healing. Simply be there for them, a witness to their exploration of their own path.

Wishing you well,


Michael Lerner Co-Founder
Michael Lerner Co-Founder

Healing Circles

Healing Circles help us explore ways of deepening our capacity to heal, alleviating our suffering, and finding meaning in both challenge and joy. Circles are small, confidential, and free of charge. You may seek to find meaning in the challenge of cancer, bear witness to your own or others’ suffering or loss, and explore your own individual choices and capacity for healing. 

Healing circles are a safe and supportive space to walk with each other through our experiences. Each circle is a blend of sharing and silence, compassion and curiosity. Agreements ensure acceptance and confidentiality. We honor our own unique paths to healing and respect the choices of others. 

Run by our sister program, Healing Circles Global ›, you are welcome to join online circles from anywhere in the globe, or to join an online training to learn how to host a circle in your own community. Some programs such as those in Langley, Washington, and Houston, Texas, hold in-person circles. Circles specific to cancer, to caregiving, to grief, and other topics are typically available.

CancerChoices co-founder Michael Lerner delineates what constitutes a healing circle.

Healing Circles: cancer social support circles and resources

Healing Circles Global

Online: Healing Circles is a safe place to bear witness to it all. We can join circles from anywhere and receive training to host circles in our own communities.

Healing Circles Langley

Langley, Washington: A nurturing supportive space where anyone impacted by cancer, a life-changing condition, or loss can explore and engage in their own healing.

Healing Circles Houston

Houston, Texas: A nurturing, supportive place where anyone impacted by illness, a life-changing condition, or loss can explore and engage in their own healing.

Cancer social support and resources from our partners

Health Navigators

Online: Creating awareness through education, empowerment through coaching, and support through community for anyone, anywhere, at any point on their wellness journey

Cancer retreats

Commonweal Cancer Help Program retreats

During these multi-day retreats, you will explore the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions of living with cancer. The key elements in the Cancer Help Program have been carefully selected and tested for nearly 40 years to support the search for deep healing.

Group activities

  • Yoga or qigong, meditation, breathing, and deep relaxation practices
  • Support groups led by a gifted psychotherapist
  • Sessions on choices in healing, medical treatments, integrativein cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan approaches, pain and suffering, and death and dying
  • A sand-tray session to explore the insights of the healing arts
  • An evening devoted to exploring healing intentions
  • A session devoted to creating sacred spaces at home
  • Delicious, primarily vegetarian meals
  • Shared experiences with fellow participants

Individual activities

  • Three hour-long massage sessions
  • Individual sessions with the psychotherapist and other senior staff
  • A cancer library and other cancer resources
  • Individualized nutrition education
  • Time to explore the beautiful retreat campus

Participants are immersed in a total surround of healing energy, supported by an experienced staff. The stresses of the outside world are lifted through the beauty of the residential retreat locations, gentle body movements, delicious food, caring massages, and deep sharing with others. Many participants report that the Cancer Help Program changed their lives. 

Commonweal has welcomed over 200 intimate groups of people with cancer and their loved ones to Bolinas, California, to its Cancer Help Program 7-day retreat, to its Bay Area Young Survivors 3-day retreat, and more recently to its month-long online Sanctuary program. 

The original Commonweal Cancer Help Program was highlighted by Bill Moyer’s PBS Documentary and subsequent book, Healing and the Mind. This inspired the creation of similar programs in Callanish in Vancouver, Harmony Hill in Washington State, Revadim in Jerusalem and the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. 

Commonweal Cancer Help Program › Bolinas, California. An intensive week-long residential retreat for people with cancer and their significant others

SANCTUARY › Online. Creating a deeply healing experience, this program meets online several times during the course of a month.

Bay Area Young Survivors › Bay area, California. Two retreats, offered alternately:

  • BAYS for women without metastases
  • Mets-in-the-City (MITC) women with metastatic cancer

Sometimes it takes a wake-up call like cancer to bring us back to ourselves. The crisis of illness may shake us free of the life that we have created and allow us to begin a return to the life that is our own.

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Founder, Remen Institute for the Study of Health and Illness, and Medical Director, Commonweal Cancer Help Program

Retreats from our partners


Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Callanish creates a healing space for people who have been irrevocably changed by cancer, through week-long retreats and ongoing programs.

Harmony Hill

Union, Washington: A 3-day residential retreat to experience renewal and deep well-being.

Nancy’s List

A list of retreats for young adults, for women, for men, and for families in most regions of the US


Rehovot, Israel: Cancer support retreats to help women live better and, where possible, longer lives

Smith Center for Healing and the Arts

Washington, DC,  and online: Cancer support retreats, Healing Circles and other cancer social support, and resources


Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager


Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: January 12, 2023

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.