Send Me On Vacation: a Transforming Experience

What is it about mermaids that has us mesmerized?

Their long, undulating tails as they glide effortlessly through the water? Their gorgeous hair and beautiful voices? The mythology, legends, and lore that surround them? Whatever it is, mermaids have captured our attention in books, movies, TV shows, and even making appearances at our very own Minnesota Renaissance Festival!

For a woman who has experienced a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, a mermaid may be the absolute LAST possible thing she would compare herself to:

Breast Cancer Patient

Long, flowing locks of hair


Bald head due to chemotherapy

Breasts that fit perfectly into seashell bras


Mismatched breasts or wonky implants

Flawless skin unaffected by sun and water (um . . . doesn’t skin wrinkle like a raisin from continuous water immersion?)


Surgical scars and radiation burns that no amount of lotion and passing of time can eliminate

Long, hard fingernails painted turquoise


Yellowed, cracked, or missing fingernails

Fit and toned body that glides effortlessly through the water


Muscle deterioration and bloating from harsh treatments and terrible side affects

Beautiful singing voices that can lure others to their death


Voices that crack with emotion and can elicit tears when telling a breast cancer story


Hands down, no comparison. What is amazing is that there is an organization—Send Me On Vacation—that offers breast cancer patients and survivors a chance to become a “real” mermaid.

You read that correctly . . . a mermaid. Called a Mermaid Empowerment Vacation, breast cancer survivors are invited to take part in a 5-7 day trip—to locations around the world—that will help them regain their beauty, strength, and grace—those things that may have been lost or taken from them following the deforming surgeries and nasty treatments for breast cancer.

Cathy Backus started Send Me On Vacation when her best friend was diagnosed a second time with breast cancer. “She asked me if we could go on vacation to my timeshare to get away from everything and just be with a girlfriend doing things that didn’t involve being a mom, wife, or cancer patient,” shares Cathy. “The transformation I saw in her was amazing and I wanted other women with breast cancer to experience this same thing.”

The program has evolved since it began seven years ago and is currently based on a unique emotional renewal and support program developed by Rebecca Taylor Shaw, CCH, CMT. The Mermaid Empowerment experience is led by a professional facilitator and guest speakers who take participants through guided imagery, wellness activities, peer support therapy and spa experiences during morning sessions. Recently, Cathy started to pair alumna of the program—Angels—with new participants—Mermaids—for peer mentoring throughout the vacation. “There is unspoken strength, support, and encouragement that happens between these women,” Cathy states as her main reason for this new program model.

“The rest of the time was ours to spend however we chose,” explains Anna, a Firefly Guide and Mermaid Empowerment alumna. “I spent time catching up on sleep, relaxing, participating in resort activities and spending time with the other survivors while out for meals, drinks, and fun events. I could share my breast cancer experience with others who totally understood me.”

Every activity leads up to the final day of the vacation: the physical mermaid transformation. Breast cancer survivors become mermaids with the help of stylists and beauty experts, choosing everything from their hair, bodice, tail, accessories and more. Finally, they experience phototherapy: a professional photographer captures their transformed self as a beautiful mermaid, and participants receive a print to take home as a reminder of their permanent inner beauty, strength, and grace, despite breast cancer.

“We were able to choose whether or not to go through the mermaid transformation, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it,” divulges Anna. “I am so glad I did. I’ve never felt so beautiful in my entire life: I wasn’t focused on what I was without breasts and hair, and I felt normal.” Anna cherishes the photos she was given of her transformed self, “Every time I see them, I think, ‘I was so pretty. It was so awesome!’”

Send Me On Vacation is able to offer these Mermaid Empowerment experiences free of charge to participants (who are asked only to pay airfare to the destinations, although grants may be available) through generous donations by hotels, resorts, and time-shares who offer their un-sold rooms for this purpose. Like Firefly Sisterhood, they rely on the support of individuals who are passionate about the program, supporters who see the value of their transformative work, and stakeholders who want to help women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Anyone interested in participating in an upcoming Mermaid Empowerment vacation must submit an online application (while lengthy, most of it is legal information) and gain her doctor’s permission. And then the transformation can begin!


Written by Amy Tix, Firefly Staffer and breast cancer survivor, who loves the idea of being transformed into a mermaid!

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