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Here's a startling statistic: According to the American Cancer Society, one in three people will be affected by cancer. For those who have beat it, watched a family member suffer, or lost a loved one to this devastating disease, however, that statistic is not so surprising. Cancer patients who are currently battling and those who have won the fight may find solace at this year's 6th annual Weekend of Hope (tel. 800/GO-STOWE; www.stowehope.org) in the picturesque town of Stowe, Vermont, May 5¿7.

Designed as a way for cancer patients, survivors and close family members to come together and learn, relax, and support one another in a beautiful setting, Weekend of Hope has grown from a small celebration to attract national attention. Last year, the event brought together more than 1,500 people from 22 states and three Canadian provinces, representing 25 forms of cancer. According to Laura Streets, project director and fundraising for Stowe Weekend of Hope, they've already received reservations from as far as California, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Presented by the Stowe Area Association, in conjunction with Fletcher Allen Health Care and Copley Hospital, organizers arrange free accommodations for first-time attendees. A $50 refundable deposit is required to secure free lodging, but upon arrival you'll be encouraged to donate that money to the Stowe Weekend of Hope to ensure its longevity. "First-time attendees are usually put in a hotel room with 1-2 beds; they can bring whomever they want," says Streets. Accommodations are booked on a first-come, first-served basis, and you'll find out a week before your arrival where you're staying; if you are a returning guest, special discounted rates are available. "Almost every property in Stowe, from inns and B&Bs to hotels, makes rooms available. The discounted rate ranges from $42 to $215 per night," says Streets.

Many activities and events are free of charge and open to the public, including Friday's cancer-specific workshops, but pre-registration is required (and fees apply) for the intensive, themed dinner events on Friday. On that night, Marcelle Leahy, cancer survivor and wife of Senator Patrick Leahy, and Liz Jeffords, survivor and wife of Senator Jim Jeffords, will give separate motivational talks, along with Kathy LaTour, an editor at Cure magazine. Workshops will be conducted by leading oncologists and hematologists on cancer treatments and research. The weekend is capped off by a candlelight vigil and dancing on Saturday night and a musical closing ceremony early Sunday afternoon.

Recreationally speaking, you can walk through town and shop in stores featuring the wares of local artisans, or opt to try the 14-mile bike bath or hike through the mountain trails, go fishing or schedule a relaxing spa treatment. Lunch and dinner are on your own or you can order box lunches. Possible therapeutic activities include yoga, a cooking class, writing, art therapy and nature walks.

The historic, well-preserved town of Stowe is located in north central Vermont at the base of the highest peak in the state, Mount Mansfield. Situated about 45 minutes by car from Burlington, four hours from Boston and six hours from New York City, Stowe is easily accessible by air, as Jet Blue (www.jetblue.com), Continental (www.continental.com), Northwest (www.nwa.com), United (www.united.com) and USAirways (www.usairways.com) service Burlington International Airport (tel. 802/863-1889; www.vermontairports.com) While you're in Stowe, the festival organizers will run a shuttle service available Friday, Saturday and Sunday to get you around; stops and schedules will be available at registration.

Once again, free transportation has been offered on Amtrak's "Train of Hope," which will depart from Washington, D.C. and make stops at 15 cities along en route, including Philadelphia and New York, to arrive in Vermont on Thursday, May 4. Unfortunately, the Amtrak train is already full with 70 passengers, but Streets says they're working to provide supplementary transportation options.

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