Tell Merry Jones to “Go take a hike,” and she’ll probably say “Great idea!” Jones is one of a group of breast cancer survivors who has discovered the healing power of nature through the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s Nurture with Nature support group.
As its name suggests, this program engages survivors in outdoor activities where they can connect and support each other in a relaxed and healthful environment. Participants enjoy kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, star gazing, bird watching or a simple walk through a forest. Winter activities include lectures and craft-making events. The program welcomes the newly diagnosed, those currently under treatment as well as survivors.
“The traditional support groups are wonderful and they serve their purpose,” says Lois Wilkinson, education and survivorship program manager at DBCC’s Kent County Office. “But this is just a little different—you can have fun and get support at the same time.”
The program got its start when Wilkinson’s mentor introduced her to the outdoors during her bout with breast cancer. “Deloris Donnelly was a naturalist who worked at some of the state parks and we would do this on our own,” she says. “And we thought ‘Why not invite some of the others?’”
Wilkinson feels being outdoors encourages participants to open up and share experiences. “There’s no pressure,” she says. “They talk at will.”
That’s what Susie Chaffinch likes about the program. “It’s just so informal and you don’t feel pressed to talk if you don’t want to talk,” says the 65-year-old from Denton, Md. “I did like that feature and found that I talked about more things than I thought I would.”
Others welcome the opportunity to forget about their cancer if only for a while. “This is very upbeat,” says 61-year-old Janice Itzell of Camden, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2011. “I don’t want to be defined by cancer and neither do the other women, so we get together and we all have that in common but we’re also doing something that’s fun and much more fun than just sitting in a room.”
Jones, who grew up in the country, says the program gave her the chance to participate in activities she enjoyed in her youth. “I think nature is gorgeous and it’s always been a great comfort to me,” says the 61-year-old from Dover. “Maybe it’s more spiritual because it’s the world that God created.”
Wilkinson says the program can be especially beneficial for the newly diagnosed, showing them that they’re going to make it through and be back to normal shortly.
“Here they see ladies who have completed treatment and they’re hiking and kayaking and their hair has grown back,” she says. “They see there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
For more about the Delaware Breast Cancer coalition, click here.