My Time Walking Through Cancer

Although a lot of time passed between my childhood walking experiences and the time I walked through cancer journeys, never did I lose the joy I felt when I wandered in the woods or hiked on trails designated easy or medium skill level. As a young adult, I paced myself over an assortment of routes in my neighborhood.

Walking for exercise and pleasure has played a big role in my entire life. Not only have I experienced this, but even a few times when I’ve been lost, I have read many articles documenting how walking stimulates relaxation and improves mood. I’ve walked hundreds, or maybe even thousands of miles with friends or family members, but more often alone.

I’ve walked in rain and shine, in cold and hot weather, on flat, hillyor occasionally mountainous terrain. I’ve walked indoors and out. I got my first treadmill about 20 years ago. I am now on my second treadmill. In inclement weather, I often get as much pleasure walking on the machine as in the natural world.

A really nice family experience occurred for me when I was 7 to 10 years old. My childhood family spent a lot of time camping in the Pacific Northwest national and state parks. My mom and dad, sister, brother, and I went on so many nature walks, in so many beautiful and interesting locations. The Cascade Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, and the Oregon Coast were among my favorite places as a child.

My first independent walk was 1 ½ miles from my home in the tiny community of Robinswood to the much larger suburb of Seattle called Lake Hills. At 12 years old, I walked that route to my weekly piano lesson. It was such a memorable experience that I can still recall the path that was right alongside the lightly traveled two-lane road.

In the earliest days of each of my cancer diagnoses, fear streamed through my veins, but I knew I had a tried-and-true method to reduce at least some of my anxiety. I went for a walk, either by myself or with a supportive friend.

Because of my probable family history of breast cancer, I was more anxious when I was diagnosed with it than I was with either of my other two cancer experiences. My likely genetic risk of the disease recurring led me to ask my surgeon whether she would be able to advocate for me with my insurance company. I told her (at my first appointment) that I would prefer to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery than simply to have my tumor removed, followed by radiation therapy.

Her response was, “Yes, but I believe you should give the choice some serious thought, before making your decision.” I took many long walks as I contemplated my decision.

Complications, as the result of an infection in one of my implants following reconstruction, increased my recovery time after surgery to nine months. Lots of frustration, many more walks.

Three years after my breast cancer I was diagnosed with a meningioma in the lining of my brain. Although not malignant, the tumor was large and worrisome. My primary symptom was weakness in my lower left leg and foot. It had made walking for pleasure almost impossible; however, within three weeks of my surgery, I was ready to resume short strolls.

At the follow-up exam after having had my first lung cancer tumor removed, I asked my doctor whether he could give me some tips on ways I could keep my spirits up. He mentioned several methods, then I told him that I liked to walk in my neighborhood.

His response was, “Just keep walking, and don’t think about it.” I did just that for the days leading up to my second lung surgery.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, shortly after my father passed away in April 2020, my two youngest daughters initiated a new outdoor activity that would prove to be encouraging and freeing for me. We walked, primarily on Saturday mornings, week after week,in a nice big county park, only 10 minutes from my house. We got exercise, pleasure, and fresh air. We enjoyed ourselves, despite having to keep reminding each other to maintain our social distance.

A second definition of walking is guiding, accompanying, or escorting someone on foot. I’ve walked through sadness about having a cancer diagnosis, anger about ongoing fatigue and fear of all the possible side effects associated with anti-cancer drugs, all the while being guided by my personal angel.

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