The Healing Power of Nature


Can connecting with the natural world calm our cancer concerns?

My home office window looks out on Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak here in Arizona. Most people think of Arizona as being a dry, sun baked desert, but fully one-third of the state is blanketed by forests and 25% of the land is grassland.

Just ten miles from my window, Rincon Peak at 8,500 feet is a sight that regularly captures my attention and my imagination as I sit at my writing desk. I often feel like I'm standing at the pinnacle, surrounded by towering Ponderosa pine trees with their sweet scent of vanilla, and only the restful breeze as my companion. Besides being beautiful— it's quiet up on top.

Even though my thoughts are often finely focused as I sit at my desk attempting to recall cancer experiences and statistics from which to write about; when I'm up there on the mountain on my make-believe expedition, high above my little community of Vail, just east of Tucson, I remember everything I love about nature and wildlife.

And I forget about my cancer.

If it weren't for some persistent discomfort from my mastectomy scar that arises whenever I'm tired or stressed or over-exercised on any given day, I wouldn't remember that I have cancer as often as I do. But as a male breast cancer survivor and advocate, I make it a point to think about cancer every day. By thinking about the guys who are newly diagnosed or the entire community of men like me who are in search of a cure, I try to balance the burden of surviving cancer with the liberation of embracing nature in all of its magnificent variety.

Science tells us that physically we are all made of "star stuff". Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Our brains are mostly water (73%). When you get right down to the basic elements of life, I get a feeling that I'm not so very different than what I see outside my window.

I can often feel connected with every other life form, especially when I'm immersed in the natural world, whether it's on a long hike through the Annapurna mountains of Nepal or exploring the Grand Canyon here in Arizona, or perhaps just traveling in my imagination to Rincon Peak while I sit in my office. It's then that I get a fleeting glimpse of our connection to the world of nature, and I get a good look at the great outdoors as a healing medicine in my own life with breast cancer.

If we are housebound, have limited mobility, are confined to a hospital bed or just sitting at our computers, there is always a connection to nature available, and it may be just outside our window.

Perhaps it includes a hike on the weekend or a walk in the park. It may be as close to you as the flowers in a vase at your bedside. In my case, there is always a reminder that something as sinister as cancer can never diminish the healing power of a sunset. In any case, it's the magic of nature that diminishes the impact of cancer in my own life.

There will always be days when my breast cancer takes center stage for a while, and I accept that this is just another element of my voyage through this amazing trek of life. But no matter what challenges we face in our physical world, including our own cancer experience, and no matter what our point of view as survivors, we can always count on the natural world to remind us that we have a very big window to look through.

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