Getting Back to Nature With Cancer


I don’t think of nature as a distraction to my cancer, masking the symptoms or the reality of my disease, but rather as a therapy that offers comfort and serenity with no negative side effects.

Before breast cancer showed up in my life, I spent a large portion of my years as a professional magician, performing for and educating elementary school children in live assembly programs with a natural history theme.

The natural world has always been a source of peace and inspiration for me, and I’m pretty certain that I’ve never met another person who doesn’t enjoy the sight of a hummingbird sipping nectar, or gaze in wonder at giant Sequoia redwood trees, or marvel at the stars on a dark night.

Nature has been the single best source of comfort and healing for me in my expedition through cancer.It ranges from spending a few minutes petting one of my cats, to admiring flowers in our garden, to standing in awe at the rim of the Grand Canyon here in my state of Arizona.

Nature, it seems, doesn’t have to vie for our attention or struggle to be bigger or better in any of its myriad forms. It doesn’t require any more from us than an open heart and a willingness to slow down, if even for a moment. This isn’t always so easy when we don’t feel well or are experiencing the stress or trauma of our own cancer diagnosis. But in my case, I’ve discovered that stepping outside and just tuning in to the music of nature works wonders for me.

One thing I’ve learned about being a cancer survivor is that our encounters with the disease are as varied as the clouds rolling across my Arizona sky, and so it’s important not to generalize our experiences.

I understand that not everyone can head out for a hike in the local forest. So being the resourceful folks that we tend to be as we push on to survive, one solution would be to simply utilize an open window to engage in the gifts that nature offers. The sights, smells and sounds of nature can be comforting, and observing birds and insects and four-legged creatures living their lives outside my window, despite the struggles that are part of survival, serves to remind me of the cycle of life that envelopes all of us in a pretty miraculous way.

Cancer has at times tested my hope, challenged my beliefs and hampered my view of the world around me, but it has never had the power to diminish a single sunset in the eight years since my mastectomy surgery. Even on those days that I’ve been troubled by the ever-present tightness of the scar across my chest or sidelined by my bout with COVID-19 or saddened by the loss of yet another colleague to cancer, I’ve been able to count on the larger and grander presence of our natural world to make my issues seem small in comparison.

I don’t think of nature as a distraction to my cancer, masking the symptoms or the reality of my disease, but rather as a therapy that offers comfort and serenity with no negative side effects to be concerned with.

Like many people with cancer, I can find a way to feel discouraged on down days. But one of my cats will invariably remind me that it’s time for their dinner, and that is the only thing I need to be concerned about at that moment. Just a few minutes outside or sitting at the window in my home office is often all it takes to bring me back to the present moment and the understanding that, sure I have cancer, but I’m alive, dealing with my pain or discomfort, and astonished by that little desert tarantula in my yard that just peeked out of its burrow to give me a smile.

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