Concert to benefit retreats for those with cancer

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Breast cancer can be devastating on so many levels, and as a patient fights to survive, pampering can be the last thing on the person's mind.

But it might be what the person needs the most.

Diva Retreats is being created to pamper those who are fighting cancer, those who have survived cancer and other women who just want to celebrate life, according to founder and director Leslie Askerneese.

“Two of my best friends just went through breast cancer, and after going through it with them, I feel like survivors need a celebration,” Ms. Askerneese said.

Ms. Askerneese owns Ultimate Beauty Spa in Squirrel Hill, where she specializes in alternative health and beauty practices such as massage therapy, body wraps and facials using natural products.

“I know from over 20 years of working in this industry that helping someone who isn’t feeling well is so important. I believe through my work, I can help others,” said Ms. Askerneese of Squirrel Hill.

She had been thinking about hosting retreats for some time, but when her friends, Diane Lee of Brentwood and Stephanie Bailey of Washington, D.C., went through cancer treatment in 2012 and 2013, Ms. Askerneese decided to make the idea a reality.

“I thought if they went through this and needed some extra pampering and care, so do other women. There are so many others going through the breast cancer battle, I wanted to do something for them,” Ms. Askerneese said.

In January, she began working with Christian Evangelistic Economic Development and the Small Business Administration to create a nonprofit to provide retreats and services for breast cancer patients and survivors. She filed for nonprofit status for Diva Retreats and is awaiting approval.

The retreats will provide information about health care, natural and alternative health practices and nutrition for every woman.

“The retreats are designed with all women in mind. We want to share knowledge and information about healthy lifestyles and alternative health care so it trickles down to the family and community as a whole,” she said.

The more women know, the more those ideas and practices will affect the family’s health care, she said. “If we have women eating and preparing healthier meals for their families, that helps the whole family.” 

Ms. Askerneese plans to hold her first retreat on what she believes is the most appropriate time of the year to celebrate women — Mother’s Day weekend, May 10-11. The first Diva Retreat will involve other health care providers and include workshops on health care, healthy eating, natural beauty practices and a concert the evening of May 10 by Loose Change Connection. Participants can choose half-day, full-day or weekend packages. The retreat will be held at the Penn Hebron Garden Club in Penn Hills.

Ms. Askerneese’s friend, Ms. Lee, believes such a retreat is just what breast cancer survivors need.

“Leslie was there for me every step of the way and is just a wonderful human being. For her to want to do this for other survivors is wonderful,” she said.

Breast cancer treatment can be difficult for patients, Ms. Lee said.

“Your self-esteem takes such a hit with breast cancer. Every cancer survivor really needs some extra TLC, and this can be just the thing. Plus, being with other survivors is very healing,” she said.

Ms. Askerneese wants to ensure that breast cancer survivors can attend the retreats free of charge.

To help raise awareness and funds for the retreat, Diva Retreats is sponsoring a benefit concert from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday at the Wyndham Hotel in Oakland. Artistree, Char Briggs, Gina Yohe and Imani Wilkerson will perform.

Tickets for the fundraiser are $15 and may be purchased at the door.

For more information: 412-421-7100 or 412-414-1039.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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