A cancer diagnosis is scary. It is life-altering. The struggles of cancer go beyond hair loss and physical pain. The anxiety of waiting for test results, the stress of not knowing how a new treatment will affect you, the fear of recurrence. All of this affects the mental health of cancer patients.
Mental struggles may not be visible to everyone, even the patient may not understand what is happening to their mental health, and mental struggles may not appear until later in the treatment process, but cancer changes you.
It changes you physically before it changes you mentally. You suffer through those physical changes as you mentally try to cope with what is happening to your body and your life. Everyone deals with these changes in different ways. I went outdoors. Being outdoors, hiking and camping, have always been my place of peace.
In 2018, I did a three-week section hike of the Appalachian Trail. Before I started hiking I found a hat. It said: Breathe, Explore, Relax, Restore. I felt the hat really embodied what I wanted to achieve on those weeks on the trail. This trip was a gift to myself. A gift of time. Time to do those four things: Breathe, Explore, Relax, Restore. Time to think and refocus my efforts and just be for a moment.
When I started back on the trail last year, amid the pandemic, I was hoping that the trail would once again provide me with clarity of purpose when everything seemed so chaotic. The purpose I found was not at all what I hoped for. During my time on the trail, I found I could no longer ignore the lump in my breast. My purpose became one of a cancer patient. My purpose became the simple fight for my life.
During this fight I have returned to the trail, numerous different trails, still to think and find clarity. Still to Breathe, Explore, Relax, and Restore.
I have learned to embrace some of the physical changes cancer treatment has caused. A bald head doesn't scare me. Fake eyelashes have become normal. My poor eyebrows will one day look normal again, maybe. Mentally dealing with the underlying consequences of cancer and cancer treatment is more difficult. Learning to embrace the mental changes and life alterations cancer has caused in my life is slower.
This past weekend I went to the beach. I hiked. I camped. I sat on the beach and watched the sunrise and drank hot tea. The week before I started my cancer treatment, I spent it at the beach trying to understand the news I had been given.
There is something about the wind and the waves and the sea salt that calls to me. As I drive over the bridge and have the first glimpses of the intercoastal waterway, I roll down the window and take a deep breath. I breathe in the salt and humidity. I exhale the problems and stress. For the weekend I can just be. No COVID. No Cancer. Just the sea and me.
I do not know what the future holds (other than more cancer treatments) but I do know the outdoors will help me deal with the mental struggles that come my way.
A NOTE FROM HUNTRESS VIEW:
Lora has been an inspiration to us all. Her drive and desire to continue to get outdoors while coping with cancer and undergoing treatment prove how strong her will is. As she continues this battle, we also want to share her GoFundMe page with our friends and followers.