Cancer Coping and How I Grudgingly Connect With Nature

I don't even like being outside that much, but as a cancer survivor, it helps, says two-time survivor Barbara Tako.

I am not a true “nature lover," whatever that really is. Nature is often too hot or too cold or too dry or too buggy or too humid for a temperamental high maintenance wall flower like me. As a cancer survivor, though, feeling nature’s discomfort reminds me that I am alive, and that is awesome! Connecting with nature and focusing my senses on nature can calm my cancer worry brain.

Connecting with nature as a mindfulness meditation helps me. I remember my oncology psychotherapist telling me to go outside, pick a sense, and spend about ten minutes, maybe twice a day, focusing on the input from that sense. I think I had the most fun with sound during the summer of my chemotherapy.

I could slow down my “worry brain” by listening, really listening. I would stop thinking about cancer and begin to catalog the sounds I was hearing. There were birds and wind and traffic noises, and then as I continued, I would notice different types of bird calls and the different sounds of wind noises and traffic. Pretty soon my racing thoughts would quiet as I continued to quietly listen. I would hear different insects and different vehicles. Time would slow down, and yet, at the same time, I would find myself surprised by how quickly the ten-minute exercise was over!

This last winter, I thought a lot about cold. I used to run from the cold. I tried to hide from my Minnesota winters. Last winter, though, I took a different approach in my mind. Every time I felt the cold wind on my face, I told myself, “The cold is good. I am alive to feel it. The cold tells me that I am alive.” I would savor the cold air I sucked into my lungs. This approach didn’t change the cold winter, but it did change me.

I was on a car ride with my youngest daughter on a gray day that winter, and she commented about how beautiful it was outside. In my own mind, I had been thinking about how depressingly gray the day was, again. I shut my mental complaints down for a moment. I tried to look at the day with her eyes—with fresh eyes. She was right!

The beautiful trees were still there, and, as I continued to look around, I realized the slight variations in the shades of gray, and the clouds were also beautiful. The sun didn’t pop out, but my perspective changed. I now actively look for beauty in gray days, too. I still prefer sunshine, but this change in my approach has helped my attitude.

There is also relief for me from the cancer worry with touch. Indoors, I find keeping my hands busy can help calm my worry brain. I have done adult coloring, beading and even crocheting (badly) to slow down my thoughts. Outside, I like the way a wooden log or a tree’s bark feels. It can be hard to slow myself down, but I encourage myself to pay attention and really focus on touch. Taste works too. I struggle with my weight. Recently, I realized how often I shove food in without really taking the time to thoroughly chew it, much less actually taste and savor it! When I work with myself to eat more slowly, I enjoy it more and I eat less.

Most days, I feel like a slow learner, but hey, better late than never, right?

What specific ways have you coped with cancer worry brain?