Lauren Huffmaster

The Adventure of Cancer: With Lauren Huffmaster

There are certain topics, especially when it comes to disease, that have the exact same reactions. For example, what’s the first thing on your mind when you hear the word “cancer”? Now think, what does it mean for cancer survivors and their families? Can you imagine a world where the cancer experience is de-stigmatized?

In today’s episode of The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast, I have the absolute pleasure of coaching Lauren Huffmaster, Founder of the Adventure Therapy Foundation and co-creator of RISE app. In this coaching call, we dive in Lauren’s experience as a breast cancer survivor and what that has meant for her family, how she got the idea of healing the global perspective on cancer survivorship in order to build her foundation, retreats and app, and how she’s turning other patients’ and their families’ experiences around cancer into adventures. We also explore ways to get funding from organizations. Join us to hear more about Lauren’s story and her cause!

And on that note, Lauren invites us to The 5K Be A Challenger Race, a virtual event that will help Adventure Therapy Foundation raise money to sponsor retreats for families impacted by cancer! Running from now until May 9th.

It is a reminder that it’s okay to be happy even though these terrible things happen. You've got this trauma in your life. It's okay to be happy together, to laugh again. It's okay to try new things and sort of re-engage in life. (...) There’s still life ahead. It’s not just this. This isn’t the end. There’s plenty of life ahead, we just have to go and grab it.” Lauren says as she explains the purpose of the retreats her foundation offers.

If there's a challenge you'd like to discuss here on the podcast or privately, please reach out to me at:

Episode Transcript

Kim Ades: [00:00:05]
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching. And you have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching Podcast, where we invite leaders from all over the world to come onto the podcast and get coached live and in person.

Today, my guest is Lauren Huffmaster. She is the Founder of a very, very interesting organization called Adventure Therapy Foundation.

Lauren. Welcome.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:00:31]
Thank you so much!

Kim Ades: [00:00:32]
So you're in California.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:00:34]
Yes, I am.

Kim Ades: [00:00:36]
And tell us a little bit about the Adventure Therapy Foundation. What is it? Who is it for? Why did you create it?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:00:43]
Yeah, so I am a young adult and I have a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. So I have a terminal disease and I was diagnosed when my children were two, four and six. And so when I received that diagnosis, I really had to look at my life and decide who I was going to be, what my legacy would be, even as I lived it with a terminal disease. And so I really looked at my family and how cancer was impacting, not just me as a patient, but my relationships.

And I think right now in society, we talk about the cancer patients and... That's a disease and a treatment, and we don't talk about the person and like the rest of the story behind the cancer patients, right?

And so I created Adventure Therapy Foundation to start a discussion around the rest of the story, the rest of our stories, right? So our relationships, our families. And Adventure Therapy really is working to address the emotional side effects of cancer. We started out, our initial program was a retreat, it's a very easy thing to give away, free retreat.

But the retreat wasn't necessarily for memory making. It was really a time set aside for families to have really difficult conversations about who they are after cancer, and what they want to be, what their hurts are and try to start having conversations and healing together.

Most programming around cancer is just for the patient and there's very little that acknowledges the caregivers, the spouses, the children, the generations around the patient. And that's what I wanted to start addressing.

Kim Ades: [00:02:22]
Okay. So you started off when... How long ago did you start this organization?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:02:27]
I think we're about four years in this year. Yeah, four years.

Kim Ades: [00:02:29]
Okay. And so... And it's a difficult question I want to ask you, but where are you at in the process with your own cancer experience? So when you say "I have a terminal disease", what exactly does that mean? Help us kind of really understand where you're at and what you're facing personally.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:02:48]
Definitely. I am was diagnosed with cancer about six years ago, a stage three, and I did all the stage three things everyone thinks about, but before I finished my treatments, they found out that it had already spread throughout my body.

So, luckily we were able to stop the cancer in my bones. It's less dangerous when it's in your bones, it's usually more painful, but not dangerous for your life. And over the last three years, actually, my medications have worked phenomenally. And at this point all the cancer has disappeared. So I'm one year into what they'd say NED, which is no evidence of disease. So currently there's no evidence of disease in my body.

Kim Ades: [00:03:28]
That's fantastic. I'm really, really happy to hear that. And before we get it a little bit more into, you know, your mission, your professional mission, how has this impacted your family and your being a mother and everything else? Your relationship?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:03:45]
Definitely. This is... I looked at my own life, like I said, and I looked at my children and, you know, for the first year and a half of cancer, all they had in their mind was bad to bad to bad to worse, right? Because all they could think of is "every week mom goes in and she gets sicker and we do less and we are able to interact less".

And I really saw that my children weren't really children anymore. They were sort of... There was this cloud that was definitely over them in what should have been their most gleeful period of their entire life. And I realized that I had to stop this cycle of sort of negative expectations and create something good.

And that's what inspired me to start dreaming about my family, how to change the culture of my family around cancer, and then use those tools to impact others. So, yeah, the cancer itself is just in me, but the expectations that what happens around me really impacted my children.

So we started, in my family, creating just weekly adventures and it was just something we had never done before. It didn't matter if it was a new food or a new place, we create something. It was always a surprise for the children. And every Wednesday they started to have this "oh, there's something good on the horizon for us. Like, we can re-engage, we can do something fun, we can laugh together again". It was sort of like giving us permission to start bonding around something good.

And that's what I want to provide in my retreats. I always send people to places they've never been. And I asked them to do something they've never done, because it is a reminder that it's okay to be happy, even though this terrible things happen. You've got this trauma in your life. It's okay to be happy together, to laugh again. It's okay to try new things and sort of re-engage in life.

And it's hard to remember that when you've had years of treatment, you just get in habits of not engaging, right? Of staying home, even though your body may have feel... Mentally, this is all you remember. And so my retreats are really set up to help families remember that there's still life ahead. It's not just this, this isn't the end. There's plenty of life ahead. We just have to go and grab it.

Kim Ades: [00:05:54]
Amazing. Okay. So tell me about your organization and where are you? I mean, COVID hit, I don't know if people are doing retreats, so where are you with that? And what is the challenge that you're facing right now?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:06:07]
Yeah, so COVID hit and for a moment, I was like, "Oh my, I have this huge mission and instead of one disease, now my entire community is looking at two diseases, right? COVID and cancer in their life. And yet I can't provide retreats". Not did not feel good to me. So I did a number of things.

I went out and purchased a house so that we could provide a no entry, virus cleaned home in the woods next to a Lake where you could still go out. And that allowed us to at least continue to serve one region of the United States. You can't... I didn't do it all over the United States, but... So that helped me continue in that area.

We also started partnering with cancer coaching, so that we can help people shift their mental game around cancer. And during this fear season, this season where you've got so much media talking about the risks that are outside of your house. So we started a second program, which I had always done. I had just done it sort of informally, and now we've formalized this idea around coaching.

And then, because I wasn't planning retreats all the time, I was able to sort of push forward and say, "you know, cancer's not just... I won't be fulfilled if I'm just helping one family at a time. I really want to change the entire culture around cancer. I want to change the way we think, I want to look at, like I said, the whole person".

And so, I had an idea for an app and I started talking about it to people in the San Francisco area. So tech companies, you know, I looked for partners who could get behind me. And because of COVID, a lot of companies had sort of time on their hands to do pro bono work and we were able to design and develop an app. It's beautiful. It's going to change the experience of cancer. I'm very excited about it. I found a whole team...

Kim Ades: [00:08:02]
What is it called?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:08:03]
It's called RISE.

Kim Ades: [00:08:04]
R I S E?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:08:06]
Yes. Yeah.

Kim Ades: [00:08:07]

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:08:07]
So, RISE is an app that creates a restorative practices in individuals impacted by cancer. So it's about starting with social media, but pushing you to get out, because we understand that with COVID, right? We get we're in a rhythm of just doing everything virtually and whenever "things open up", it might take us a time to re-engage and get back into all the things outside of our walls, right?

We can understand that with COVID. Well, cancer is even more significant, right? You've been in your home longer for more severe reasons and to re-engage and get out that... You need someone to sort of drag you out and start engaging. So this app is that person. You know, in some ways, that ally that can pull you out and help you find the people to stand with you in your cancer experience.

So yeah, so we designed and developed an app. We got it completely done. I haven't invested any money. It's all been done pro bono with in-kind donations. And so now as I look at my organization, and before last year and up until right now, our budget really looked at just supporting families. So it's very easy to take a family's portfolio of sorts to a company and say, "Will you sponsor this family?! And they're like, "of course I will. Why wouldn't I?" Right?

Well, now I have to really sell something a little more abstract. I need donations to stand with me on the future investment of how we're changing mindsets, not just in the patient, but for a generational approach, right? We're really trying to break... Steer off the next generation, because as medical technology increases around cancer, like... If I had lived 15 years ago, I would not be alive right now. It's only because of the breakthroughs that happened in the last 10 years that I'm here.

So this is the first season, first era where cancer patients are around long enough to articulate our experience and we need tools to help us live with cancer, right?

Kim Ades: [00:10:14]

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:10:14]
And so this is a brand new moment in medical history where survivors need something different. And so I'm really trying to sell that, you know? But it's a new idea, right? And so I'm in my work, in Adventure Therapy, I've gone to selling something very practical to really trying to sell a movement and get people to stand with me and this idea of how we can change the future mindsets around cancer.

And that to me is really my challenge. I needed to step into it as a leader and I needed others to step into it with me, so that we can create what I've designed. Or we can bring out of the closet sort of this product and this idea.

Kim Ades: [00:10:58]
So let's define what exactly is your challenge. Is your challenge that you want to get more sponsors? Is the challenge that you need money for marketing and advertising? Is the challenge that you need leaders in the world, the community to hear about this and help open doors for you?

Like, what is the single thing that when you say, "man, I wish I could only..." What is that?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:11:22]
Yeah, to me, they're all one thing, right? If I talk to someone, they're going to lead me to someone else and that's going to get more awareness, and the awareness leads to buzz, and the buzz leads some money, right? And so, it is very chicken and egg for me.

I definitely need... I've been told I need 18 months of funding so that when we've launched the product, we have a secure 18 months of scaling of in front of us. So we're not afraid of what the future holds that when we get that threshold of users, we're not like, Ah! What comes next!?" so I will definitely need that.

But in order to get those people, of course, I need publicity. I need people to stand with me and say, "this is important. Like, this is overlooked". And so, it's very chicken and egg. So we can look at either of those.

Kim Ades: [00:12:06]
Okay. So, is your question, how do I connect myself with the right people? Like, I'm trying to really narrow it down so that we can talk about what the challenge is and how you're thinking about that challenge.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:12:18]
Right. So, as far as connecting with people, I have created a LinkedIn, you know, I've really reached out on LinkedIn and I've connected with... Well right now to like 50 nonprofits and all of the nonprofits are listening, they're excited, they're willing to launch the product with me. So, as far as connecting with the cancer community, I think I'm doing that pretty well.

What I may be I'm not doing quite yet is connecting with people who have the money to invest back into the program, right?

Kim Ades: [00:12:46]

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:12:46]
So companies or angel donors, or donors who have long-term perspective and who can stand with me in this.

Kim Ades: [00:12:56]
Okay. So there are a few things that I think about as I hear this, right? So you're very well connected to the nonprofit world. And it's funny, right? The nonprofit world, every single agency has the same mission, which is to raise funds for their purpose. And so, in a funny way, like that's not the place you might want to go to for funding, right? Although you need it for support and for the voice that you're trying to create.

And so the question becomes, where can you go for funding? Like, what are your options? The options are: you're right. Maybe get an angel investor. I know that there's government funding available in Canada for very interesting projects where you want to stretch beyond your borders. I'm not sure if those funds exist in the US. But it sounds like, to me, you know...

Again, we can talk about other other means perhaps a cancer survivor, someone who's been impacted by cancer and their families, who has the means, right? Another option is to, like, tap into organizations that are... Have communities or members that are focused on... Not fundraising, on building their companies, who have a little extra to spare, right? So organizations like YPO where you say, "Hey, here's my mission".

And so the question becomes, how do you get involved and integrate into the world where money is not an issue?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:14:30]

Kim Ades: [00:14:31]
Right? And so, part of it is... Is that world accessible to you? Do you feel like that? Or is that world far away from you in your mind?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:14:40]
No, it's definitely becoming accessible. I've made multiple presentations to organizations like 400-500 companies. The question is always getting to the decision maker. You start somewhere and you sort of build a relationship over time until you can work up to the decision makers who will make those choices. And so that's time.

And as someone with metastatic breast cancer, time is always like my enemy, right? I'm only like this urgency, like "we've got to get this done today". And so... But I am choosing to, you know, be calm, start one relationship at a time and build into these companies and hopefully want, you know, build my way into someone who can introduce me to the decision makers.

Kim Ades: [00:15:23]
Right. So when time is an issue and, you know, what really, that is, it's a reflection of inaccessibility to resources. And what I really want to say is that you're... I want you to which up the word "time" for "resources".

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:15:42]

Kim Ades: [00:15:43]
So what resources do I need that will help me accelerate things. Right? And so, on the one hand, yes, you do need to talk to some people. But on the other hand, you know, just like you got your app built for you pro bono, that tells me, yeah, you're pretty creative. You're pretty resourceful, but for whatever reason, there's a different mentality that goes along with opening your wallet.

And more specifically, it's easier to ask someone to help you build an app than it is to ask someone to help you pay for something. You know? Do you see what I'm saying?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:16:17]
Oh, definitely. When a company provides in-kind donations, then they are providing us something for their employees, right? They get to work on an important project, they find purpose in it builds, you know, rapport there. So that's been really good. But yes, at this point I do need in-kind support. I always will do that because I believe there's exponential growth that happens there.

But I also need a bank account that says "I can sustain this for sure, you know, moving forward".

Kim Ades: [00:16:46]
Yes. So you said something really interesting that I want to explore, which is when we give a mission to employees, they wrap their arms around it. And so the question becomes, can we create a project per se, where the employees are wrapping their arms around fundraising for this purpose? Right? So... Which is different from, "Hey company. Can you give me money?"

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:17:13]
Right. No, I... In the past, I understood this and so I could give a company "here's a family, right? Here's a family. You guys wrap your arms around raising money for this family". And that worked really well because there's something very tangible there, right? But this is... I guess I'm transitioning and pivoting now. And so it's now, how do I give them something tangible that they can get excited about, but it has, you know, tech behind it or long-term impact behind it. So that is, that is definitely a transition I'm in.

Kim Ades: [00:17:44]
Yeah. And maybe it's "can you help me get the first hundred users on the site?" So it's also tangible, right? So you're sponsoring the first hundred. So that's also very tangible. And you see, the thing is, what you want to do is you want to take what you've done successfully and now apply it.

And perhaps, it's a bit backwards, right? So usually we want to go to the top of the organization to say, "Hey, can we get the funding?" But perhaps you need to go to the bottom of the organization to say, how do we make this tangible? Would you...

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:18:20]
Definitely. And, of course when...

Kim Ades: [00:18:22]

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:18:24]
Sorry. When you start at the bottom, that does create buzz inside, and that trickles upward as well. We think of things trickling downward, but in this case, it actually trickles upward.

Kim Ades: [00:18:33]
Right. And the question will become, "Hey team...", right? Just whatever, a team in a company... "Would you get excited about this?" And maybe it's not, like, the first hundred, maybe that's a big number. Maybe it's, you know, the first 20. And so, that you have packages, you could easily get people rallying around.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:18:58]
Yeah. I like that idea because it is tangible. People can still see it. They can still see the impact. Twenty lives or a hundred lives. But they also, as business people could understand that it takes money to do that, so then I could create sort of a package. Like, if you could raise this money or bring me these people, then I can support them in a proper way.

Kim Ades: [00:19:18]
Right. And the other thing that comes up for me is that if there are companies that are excited about it, maybe there's a bit of a competitive play you can bring to the table that says, "okay, I have these 10 or 20 companies involved. Who's going to win the war". Right? "How many we all want to impact lives, who's going to win. Who's going to impact the most lives". And then, you know, make it a bit of a game, a fun game to play where there's a little bit of a competitive spirit to it too.

But I love what you're saying: make it tangible. And I think you need to take your tangibility to this piece as well.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:20:01]
Yeah. I just haven't been able to wrap my mind around how to do that quite yet. 'Cause to me it is such a... It's a very different kind of game, but I like this. It's still... People want to impact one life, you know, they want to bring good to someone. And so if I can just talk about the people inside of the app, that will make it... Again, take that personal piece and put it back into the discussion.

Kim Ades: [00:20:26]
Yeah. And it's kind of like these 20 people who are using the app belong to this company, you know? And so there's a more personal approach. There's a more personal touch.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:20:40]
Yeah, that could definitely work.

Kim Ades: [00:20:42]
Yeah. It's you know... On another front, I might have someone to introduce you to, so stay on the line and we can talk about that after.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:20:52]
Wonderful. Yeah.

Kim Ades: [00:20:54]
I want to share with you and the audience, a personal story. Something that I've told a lot of people who have been to my presentations, but I'll share it with you as well. One of my kids, I have five of them, has had cancer. He had cancer when he was 16, it was Ewing sarcoma. And there was a bump that grew on his head and we thought it was just a cosmetic bump, but it turned out to be cancerous.

And he was... We're in Toronto. We have an amazing hospital here called SickKids Hospital, but he was in the hospital every two weeks in and out of treatment. He'd stay five days, come home. Then two days, come home. Five, two, five, two, five, two. And it took a toll on him and his body. And he... You know, the chemotherapy made him lose taste in his mouth.

It became very metallic. He couldn't eat anything. The only thing he enjoyed was orange tic-tacs. And, you know, from a parent's point of view, all you want to do is feed your kid. Like just... You want them to eat. On the last day of his chemo treatments, as we were driving home, his name is Michael. I said, "Michael, are you hungry?"

He said, yes. And I said, great, you want to go grab a bite to eat? He said, yes. I said, what do you feel like having, he said, I want a burger. And so we went out for burgers and it happened to be on the 26th of March, eight years ago. And he declared that on the 26th of every month, we would celebrate burger-versary in honor of his good health.

So every single month we find a burger place and during COVID we do it at home and we order in, or we make our own... But we celebrate his health by eating a burger, taking a picture, posting it on Facebook and we're coming close to our 100th burger-versary coming up in July. So, your cause is our cause, and we support you fully and, you know... There you go, burger-versary.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:22:47]
I love it!

Kim Ades: [00:22:49]
One of your adventures.

Lauren Huffmaster:
I love it. That's the most wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Kim Ades: [00:22:55]
I want to say thank you for being on the podcast. Thank you for taking this on. Thank you for making a difference in the world and really making cancer something that is not such a terrible, horrible, awful experience, and it can be a little bit brighter. And I salute you for that. So thank you so much.

For those of you out there who want to support Lauren.

Lauren, how do we reach you? How do we support you? How do we contribute to what you're doing?

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:23:27]
Yeah, definitely. We have a website and you can go there, there's more information about our programming, there's a donation page. This week, we're launching a virtual 5k, so you can run from anywhere you are, and it runs from now til Mother's Day. And you can go to where you can register.

There'll be families you could support there, if you want to donate to them, there's going to be Memorial boards for families who've lost someone, specifically moms in the last year or two. So we're going to honor them by running on Mother's Day. But you can go to

We named it that because we're challenging these emotional side effects of cancer. We say cancer has been challenging families long enough, it's time for us to pick up a challenge and to sort of push back, support these families in the areas that they need.

Kim Ades: [00:24:22]
Love it. Thank you. And those of you who are listening, tune in, check it out. Go to, participate. Do your run, do your thing. Help Lauren out.
Lauren. Thank you. I appreciate having you on.

Lauren Huffmaster: [00:24:37]
Thank you so much. Thank you.

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