At a fundraiser for Shay's Warriors at Little Bar in Palm Desert, Shay Moraga (far right) is joined by board members Denise Orfield, Angela Prescott, and Sonja Fung.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY SHAY'S WARRIORS
Shay Moraga couldn’t get over how empowered she felt. The breast cancer she was first diagnosed with in 2016 and beat into oblivion no longer held the upper hand. The Coachella Valley resident had found a place where she could not only share her story, but inspire others to do so as well.
It was a yoga retreat.
“There was one other cancer survivor there. And they're like, ‘Oh, I went through cancer as a young teenager. Your story is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing that with us,’” Moraga recalls. “And when I sat back that last day as I was driving home to the desert, because the retreat was in Northern California, I was like, ‘I wish that every cancer survivor could go to a retreat like this.’ I really do. I felt so good. I felt like sharing my story really helped me because the more that I shared, the more I felt like I healed a little bit, like people understood.”
Moraga put her words into action, creating the “I Am Hope Survivors Reset Retreat.” The pandemic could have sent her mission sideways, but her nonprofit, Shays Warriors, stayed the course and held it virtually over the last two years. Begun in 2018, Shay’s Warriors informs and inspires women cancer survivors and their families both in person and virtually plus delivers gift baskets to Coachella Valley patients and desert cancer centers.
"Just like cancer, I'm not going to give up,” Moraga says. “We were going to help these women no matter what. And so we pivoted very quickly to an online virtual emotional and support educational group. We started doing podcasts. We started doing vlogs and blogs so that other people could write and we could be the platform where they could share their stories of hope and inspiration.”
This month, timed with National Cancer Survivor Month, the retreat will meet in person, June 24-26, in Palm Springs. Moraga has invited Cecily Elmas, who led the yoga retreat she attended and is a nationally recognized life coach among a host of accolades. “I feel very, very blessed that she collaborated with me for this to be able to help survivors thrive and be able to move forward in life a little bit,” Moraga says.
Moraga, who was honored by Palm Springs Life's Women Who Lead in 2021 for her nonprofit's acomplishments, chats further with the magazine about the retreat and the work of Shay’s Warriors.
How many people will attend the first in-person retreat?
Shay’s Warriors had over 90 nominations, and we only had funding for 25 women. The thing is, is we also want to keep it intimate because with survivorship, there's a lot that goes around that. We want be able to give these women the opportunity to connect and walk away friends for life, to be able that if they are going for a scan and they feel fear or anxiety, they can call one of these women and say, "Hey, I have a scan going on." I mean, we have a private Facebook group that they're all a part of right now. So they're already interacting before they get to meet each other.
What was your greatest wish in putting on the retreat?
There are so many things that people forget that happen after you’re done with active treatment. There's fears. There're anxieties. Your bank account is drained from insurance deposits and all this extra stuff. And a lot of integrative healthcare is not included in insurances.
So if you want to do something like vitamin C IVs, or you want to do Reiki treatment, or you want to do meditation, or any of that stuff, it's not included. So you have to pay for that out of pocket. And I'm like, "Why can't someone help them be able to, after they're done, they're able to go away for a weekend and be among other people who understand this journey of cancer and not have to pay for it?" And we’ve been able to do that.
Are you still looking for sponsors?
We have sponsorships still available, a few of them. If anyone wants to get on board, we usually will keep our sponsors up for the entire year, especially for the retreat.
Are the attendees just from the Coachella Valley?
Not all of the women are local. We have over half of the women that are local so that's great. But we have a woman flying in from Atlanta, Georgia. We have people coming in from San Francisco. One lady is coming in from Oregon. So we had a lot of people that wanted to be included in the retreat. And we had some criteria. They had to be between one and five years of survivorship. They had to be nominated by either themselves or someone. And they had to be done with active treatment.
Do you plan to keep the event in June?
We definitely want to keep it in June. We want to keep it right here in the Coachella Valley. The reason for June is June is National Cancer Survivors Month. So this time around, unfortunately, we didn't get the weekend that we wanted. It will always be usually held the very first weekend in June. But this year because of the pandemic and because of things we couldn't control, we had to have it a little bit later in June. But we are looking for people to partner with us so that in the beginning of the month, that first weekend, which is National Cancer Survivors Weekend, we're able to host and hold the retreat so they know that every single year it will be that weekend.
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