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North Hills Monthly

Healing Adventure Retreat for Cancer Survivors Promotes Healthy and Active Lifestyle

Apr 30, 2019 11:45AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Cancer survivor Jack Ganster, founder and CEO of Survivor’s Outdoor Experience. Ganster is a native of Richland Township, and will be leading a retreat in Pittsburgh this June.

Jack Ganster was living in Washington State, hosting friends visiting from Pittsburgh when he had a seizure and blacked out. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and as a result, underwent three brain operations and radiation treatment. Fifteen years later, Ganster’s made a full recovery, and he wants to share his experience, and his belief in the benefits of living a healthy and active lifestyle, with other survivors.

From June 28-30, Ganster will be hosting a Healing Adventure Retreat at the Chatham University Eden Hall campus as part of Survivor’s Outdoor Experience (SOE), a nonprofit educational and recreational organization that he founded. The program, which is entirely run by volunteers, provides a curriculum of informative presentations balanced with recreational activities with the goal of helping participants gain strength, hope, and a sense of the future.

“I had no reason to say, ‘Why me?’ when there are so many people diagnosed with cancer every day,” said Ganster of his diagnosis. “Why not me? I had to decide what to do with this experience, and as a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Survivor’s Outdoor Experience seemed like a natural fit.”

Ganster credits his survival to excellent medical care and at least in part to his healthy lifestyle. “I have been a vegetarian for nearly 40 years and have always been active. Did that help me get to where I am? I would think so. If nothing else, it made my body stronger to fight cancer,” he explained.

“You shouldn’t have to be diagnosed with cancer to live a healthy and active lifestyle,” he added. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can only help with an overall better quality of health, and therefore, life.”

Ganster, a Richland Township native who now lives in Port Angeles, WA, has hosted seven successful Healing Adventure Retreats in that state, and he wanted to bring the experience to his hometown. Participants will include individuals that have been diagnosed with cancer, and a companion, if they so choose.

“We consider ‘survivors’ anyone from the moment they are diagnosed with cancer. And SOE programming is free for all participants–when you are facing cancer, you don’t need one more worry,” said Ganster, adding that the organization’s funding comes from donations and sponsorships.

In addition to indoor and outdoor activities, the retreat will feature informative presentations and healthy lifestyle demonstrations, including guided meditation led by Maggi Aebi; gentle yoga led by Marlene Fristch; Relating to Nature–from Garden to Table, a walk-and-talk with Chatham’s Farm Manager Tony Miga; a healthy cooking demonstration led by Chef Chris Galarza from Chatham; Now What? The Path Forward by Elizabeth Schandelmeier; Navigating Self Advocacy with Carol Bergman; The Companion’s Story/Caregivers by Wendy Meyers; kayaking at North Park; and music by Better Late than Never.

“I am pleased and honored to have such a great list of presenters for our first-ever Pittsburgh program,” said Ganster. “We hope that this will be a meaningful experience for everyone.”

For more information, visit

To register for the retreat, contact Kathleen Ganster at 412-377-8364 or or Jack Ganster at 360-377-1619 or