Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
When the fears and anxiety of cancer haunt you, open a window, walk outside and let nature run its course.
Ever since I was a kid, I always found happiness outside. There is something about the fresh air, the sound of the birds and the freedom to go just about anywhere I pleased. The outside technically doesn't have four walls to surround us, so it always felt free. As I grew up, those feelings never changed. When I feel walled in, I'd try to get outside, and if that wasn't possible at that moment, I opened a window just to at least feel that fresh air. It always made a difference to me. It brought me back to the present, no matter what.
I remember one of the first things I did when I started feeling better after my bilateral mastectomy. I took a walk. My mom suggested that I get outside as soon as I could and walk. I remember thinking, sarcastically, that a walk would certainly solve everything. I was going through cancer and had chemotherapy waiting in the wings, so let me solve my fears by taking a walk.
Well, guess what, as usual she was right. I forced myself out of the house and I breathed in fresh air. Immediately I felt better. I started by simply walking around the block because that was about all the energy I had at that moment. Soon, I was walking quite a bit and feeling good. I did this during chemo, and I think it made the difference in my energy levels. It was crazy that something as simple as walking outside was the game changer. I just think it was the fresh air and the fact that there were no walls to corner me in.
It was on one of those walks that I stopped and took it all in. I thought about it and wondered, did anyone really listen when the birds chirped? When people are outside, do they notice the sounds all around them? I certainly hadn't. I had no reason to. No need to. However, that day, I enjoyed more than just being outside. I started to take it all in. I listened to the birds. I heard the crickets chirp. I started to notice things. A couple deep breaths in, a bit of listening to the birds and a few minutes of just watching life pass by was what I was really getting out of those walks.
So, I tried to focus on those moments more. It was my form of outdoor mindfulness. It made the difference for me. It was my place to go back to and refocus. I've said it a million times about how I struggle with anxiety and fears of cancer. Every day I am running from those fears, and every day they give a great chase. The park by my office sees a lot of me. I go there to escape whenever possible. I go there for a run after work. If I am lucky in the summer and can get away on a lunch break, I sometimes head there. I sit outside with no music and no visitors. I just go to breath in the fresh air and simply listen.
Another favorite is watching the sunset outside. It is one of the most peaceful things to do in a day. There is no reason to talk. There is no reason to think about anything other than watching the beauty that is all around when the sun sets. Do this outside if you get the chance. Just breathe and release any thoughts and fears. Let nature run its course and enjoy it as it happens. My advice to anyone, whether cancer is in your life or not, is to go outside and relax a bit. When nature calls, answer it. Walk outside, open a window and take it all in, even if it is only for five minutes.