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On July 27-29th, more than 30 support group leaders, co-leaders and group representatives attended the IMF 2nd Annual Support Group Leader Retreat, held on the Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina.

The purpose of the Retreat is to provide a forum where support group leaders can meet, interact and exchange ideas with fellow myeloma support group leaders. In addition, each year a variety of presentations designed to further empower and educate group leaders are offered.

The weekend began as guests arrived at Duke's R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center. Aftesettling in, they made their way to the on-site registration table to announce their arrival. There, they were met by the smiling faces of IMFers Dr. Brian Durie, Susie Novis, Romi Brozeit, newcomer Lisa Paik, Stephanie Colman, and even Sue Hamilton of the IMF (UK) office! Now armed with a retreat binder containing information for the weekend, copies of the latest IMF brochures and even a sheet of homework, attendees enjoyed a bit of informal mingling before heading to the dinner reception.

For many, the evening was the first time they had an opportunity to chat with fellow myeloma support group leaders. As everyone got to know each other over friendly conversation, it was clear that the weekend was getting off to a fabulous start.

Rounding out the evening was an uplifting presentation by Los Angeles-based motivational speaker, Tom Bay. As Bay spoke of the "Left and Right Walls," one being where we mentally find ourselves in difficult times and the other where we are during good times, a glance around the room indicated many were acknowledging their own ongoing journeys between the two walls. Ending the evening with a thunderous round of applause for Bay, leaders turned in early in preparation for the busy day and full schedule awaiting them the following day.

The meeting began Saturday with a welcome from Dr. Durie and Susie Novis. Next, Cathy Lebkuecher, IMF member and leader of the Atlanta Area Multiple Myeloma Support Group, kicked off the presentations with an informative look at the importance of communicating with support group members not just during group meetings, but between them as well. She touched on the role of a group newsletter and its ability to keep members "in the loop," by informing, educating, motivating and reminding them of key information, explaining that overall, a newsletter can create a sense of community within the group, establishing ties between members and fostering a sense of belonging. Cathy's group newsletter, published since October 1997, has served as a model for several support group newsletters.

Next, Gwen Wagner of Wagner Works, a training and consulting company, provided a brief overview of presentation skills, walking the group through how to use an outline to develop a speech about their support group or about myeloma. In less than one hour, the group had successfully identified a target audience, topic, main message, key proof & evidence and desired action steps and was well on the way to drafting a short speech that would be appropriate for a number of audiences.

Shifting gears, Greg Pacini, LPC, CGP, vice president and program director of The Wellness Community of St. Louis, in the first of a two-part presentation, addressed many important issues related to group facilitation. He focused on setting the stage for a group meeting, the principal responsibilities of the group facilitator, common blocks to successful facilitation and facilitation techniques.

Creative Healing was next on the agenda, with Betty Haskins of Duke University Cultural Services offering an informative look at the role of the arts in healthcare and encouraging leaders to think of ways in which to incorporate artistic activities into group meetings. The Los Angeles MM Support Group knows the therapeutic value of arts in healthcare first hand, having collectively published Living with Myeloma: Survivor Stories, a compilation of 22 personal stories of Los Angeles-area myeloma patients.

One of the most anticipated sessions was the first of two open forums, a chance to turn the meeting over to the leaders for the free discussion of issues of interest to the group. This proved to be an extremely beneficial experience, as it allowed leaders to learn from the successes and challenges of other leaders. Several topics were brainstormed, including how to successfully motivate members to lend a hand with group responsibilities, the role of guest speakers, how best to work with new group members and managing a growing group.

Finally, Pacini returned to lead the group through "Tackling the Tough Stuff," an emotional session focusing on the difficult and highly emotional issues that support groups and group leaders must face, such as death of a group member.

As Saturday's session came to a close, the group gathered together to join hands and spend a moment quietly reflecting on the special experience they had shared. Looking around the room, the feeling of camaraderie was inspiring.

By dinnertime, everyone was chatting and laughing as if they?d known each other for years. Conversations continued as the banquet staff cleared the tables and even lingered in the lobby as everyone seemed reluctant to see the day come to a close. Although Sunday offered a second open forum, many leaders had early morning travel plans, causing Saturday to officially come to a close with several goodbye hugs and handshakes.

Since the meeting, attendees continue to stay in close contact with each other, emailing frequently to share thoughts and exchange ideas. All of us at the IMF are pleased to call the meeting a success and look forward to seeing familiar faces as well as new faces at next year?s 3rd Annual Support Group Leader Retreat.

Note: If you are the leader or co-leader of a myeloma support group, or if you would like to start a support group in your area, the IMF would like to help. Please contact Stephanie Colman at (800) 452-CURE ext. 224 or via e-mail at scolman@myeloma.org.

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