hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues August 2017


Immersion in healing

After cancer, owner shares riverside retreat with patients, survivors


Roger and Letitia Wyatt run the Barn at Basset House on Hudson, a riverside retreat in Greenwich, N.Y. Next month, they’ll host a daylong retreat for area cancer patients and survivors.  Joan K. Lentini photoBy STACEY MORRIS
Contributing writer



Roger and Letitia Wyatt run the Barn at Basset House on Hudson, a riverside retreat in Greenwich, N.Y. Next month, they’ll host a daylong retreat for area cancer patients and survivors.  Joan K. Lentini photo

When Letitia Wyatt opened the Barn at Bassett House on Hudson in 2009, she imagined it as a refuge where poets, painters and composers could spend time immersing themselves in their creative work.

Over the years, her dream became a reality, as her retreat center hosted dozens of workshops, in-residence stays, concerts and play-readings along a quiet stretch of the Hudson River in Washington County.

But Wyatt, who runs the center with her film-director husband, Roger, never imagined her secluded property would evolve into a place of solace for recovery from cancer.

Then Wyatt was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. She had surgery and received radiation treatment at the Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center of Saratoga Hospital. She has since made a full recovery.

She attributes her return to health both to the oncology center’s caring philosophy and to her own devotion to her artwork, which helped her through the difficult transition. She points to two side-by-side paintings on the wall.

“The one on the left I did the day before I was diagnosed with cancer,” Wyatt said. “I knew something was wrong, and I cried the whole time I painted it.

“The second painting was done three months after my treatment was over,” she continued with a smile. “Both have a lot of gold in them. I realized I am gold.”

Wyatt said her experience with cancer allowed her to immerse herself more deeply in the realm of art and its potential to heal and inspire. But she also drew inspiration of a different sort from the Wilmot center staff and volunteers who helped in her recovery.

“The folks were so wonderful to me at the center,” she said. “When I ‘graduated,’ they gave me a care package of goodies, which included a handcrafted pendant made by the volunteers there. It’s hanging from my rearview mirror, and I look at it every day as a reminder. I’m eternally grateful.”

Next month, Wyatt will give back to others in her situation and honor her former caregivers as the Barn at Bassett House hosts Saratoga Hospital’s first-ever retreat for cancer patients and survivors. The Sept. 16 retreat will give participants the chance to spend a day in a tranquil, natural setting and focus on their inner lives. Wyatt described it as an opportunity for cancer patients and survivors to recharge and focus on wellness without the trappings of a medical setting.


A chance to step back
Jennifer Baldwin, an oncology social worker at the Wilmot center, was instrumental in helping to arrange the September retreat.

“Cancer patients need a lot of emotional and moral support, and we thought a daylong retreat for them to focus on relaxation and wellness would be perfect,” she said.

Baldwin’s role at the oncology center is to link patients to services they wouldn’t get from a doctor’s office, such as practical help with transportation and meals, financial assistance and support groups.

“Some have no idea they’re sick prior to their mammogram,” she said. “We see a lot of ‘healthy’ people who have breast cancer, and they range in age from 25 to 95.”

She said the center’s director, Renee Russell, had wanted for several years to organize a daylong retreat for patients.

“The plan is for it to become an annual retreat to serve cancer survivors in their healing journey,” Baldwin said. “We want to start out slow, so this year’s retreat is open to 40 survivors who are treated by the Saratoga Hospital offices that serve oncology patients … though we won’t turn anyone away.”

As plans for the retreat began to take shape this year, Russell, Baldwin, and others at the center chose to name the event after Kweilyn Taylor, a hospital employee and longtime supporter of the Wilmot center.

“Kweilyn has given major amounts of time and money to the center to help cancer patients,” Baldwin said.

She said Taylor, who lives in Saratoga Springs, was a key organizer of a past fund-raiser called Run for the ROC and has been a participant in the local American Cancer Society Relay for Life since 2008.

“She even takes vacation time and money to assist with these events,” Baldwin said.
Taylor said that after she lost her best friend, Kay Lundgren, to esophageal cancer 10 years ago, she decided to go all in to help other cancer patients.

“If Kay were still around, I’d be doing fun stuff with her and spending money, so why not give that money to others,” she explained of her devotion to fund-raising efforts. “I love doing it and do the Relay for Life every June.”

Taylor juggles her volunteer work with her overnight shift at the hospital as a transportation aide, a job that involves moving patients on beds, stretchers or wheelchairs to tests or rooms.
“I also am responsible for four stockrooms, checking oxygen and anything else in-house,” she said. “And I love the volunteer work I do for the cancer center. … I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
One year, Taylor spent months hand-crocheting 70 scarves made of the softest wool she could find, had them blessed by a priest at the hospital and distributed them to cancer patients.
She said she was glad her fund-raising efforts would help support the logistics of organizing the upcoming retreat.

“I wanted to do something special with the money I donated, and I told them to use it for whatever they needed,” Taylor said. “When Renee and Jennifer showed me a prototype of the retreat, I was blown away.”


Tranquil setting
Baldwin said Barn at Bassett House was the logical choice for the inaugural retreat.
“We fell in love with the river setting, Letitia’s gracious heart and vision for our retreat,” she said.
The red, two-story barn overlooks a lily-pad-dotted inlet along the Hudson and seems far from traffic and bustle. It’s quiet but for the soft hum of darting dragonflies and the occasional greeting from the colony of bullfrogs.

“Roger says it’s a place of grace and ease, beauty and tranquility,” Letitia Wyatt said. “There’s just something about being on the water. … It’s a stress-free zone here, that’s for sure.”
When the Wyatts first opened the center in 2009, it was used as a creative space for artists who wanted to come for the day.

Two years ago, though, the couple gave it an extensive upgrade, adding a kitchen, a full bathroom and accommodations to sleep four.

The main room is painted in rich hues of red and deep purple. It overlooks a large wraparound balcony with several tables and a view of the Hudson. Below deck are more tables for congregating, writing, or painting, plus a hammock.

“Visitors love walking out to our peninsula to either meditate or just sit and take in the beauty,” Letitia Wyatt said, pointing across the inlet to a pair of secluded benches.

Baldwin said spaces for September’s retreat are already filling up.

“Our intent is for patients to recharge and rejuvenate,” she said, adding that the event will include massage therapists, mindfulness meditation, a yoga instructor, essential oils, music therapy, a nutritionist, storyteller and Peter Zimmerman, a Buddhist chaplain from One Roof Holistic Health Center in Saratoga Springs.

“We’re rolling it out slowly this year so we don’t have to deny anyone,” Baldwin said. “But my guess is, next year we’ll need a larger venue.”


The First Annual Kweilyn Taylor Retreat -- “A Path to Hopefulness, a Day’s Retreat to Fill Your Cup” -- will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 at the Barn at Bassett House on Hudson, at 338 River Road in Greenwich. The event is open to cancer patients and survivors free of charge and includes lunch and snacks. Reservations are required, and space is limited to 40 participants. For more information or to register, visit www.saratogahospital.org.