Wild Walkers

My son and my dog are always eager to join me in the woods.

Walking in nature is my favorite medicine. No matter what is happening in life, I come back to the simplicity of breath and the alert wisdom of my senses. The breeze kisses sweat from my brow, my ears fill with the magical mimicry of the mockingbird, and I smell the sweet rot of leaves mixed with pine sap and wet earth. This May will mark the threshold of 5 years since my cancer diagnosis, and I am still conscious that each step forward holds newness and potential. I am deliberate with my walking, not in a way that is urgent or set on a fixed destination, but I walk with gratitude and awareness shaping each step of the journey.

It wasn’t always this easy to move through the woods. I remember how I felt during treatment, when at only 36 years old I gauged each day with a perceived age. My husband Joey would ask, “How do you feel today?” and I might reply, “I’m 87 today,” after  the Neupogen shot left a shattered glass feeling in the bones, or I might say, “I’m only 63 today!” when I was on the upswing between treatments. I forced myself to go out on slow walks down our long gravel driveway, no matter what. The dappled light through the trees brought me out of whatever funk I was  feeling, and helped me have a sense of accomplishment, even if I knew that an extra mid-day nap would be required.

The year after treatment ended, I desperately wanted to get my strength and stamina back. I wanted to give back in a meaningful way too, and help others going through cancer treatment. I signed up for the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer, and spent months going on longer and longer training walks, preparing my body to make it through the 39 mile trek that would take us all over Manhattan over the course of two days. By mile 34, I was limping with every step. At each rest stop, there was a parked van, taunting me, the driver gently offering to drive me to the finish line, but I refused to stop. I had fought too hard, and come too far to let some blisters get in the way. I held a mantra in my mind with each step thinking, “F*ck Cancer” and repeated that in my mind. I pictured each step as walking towards my health. Then I repeated the names of my friends and family who were still facing their diagnosis, as well as those who had died from cancer. I said their names over and over, each step bringing me closer to the finish line.

I am bringing my love of walking in nature to my local community, coordinating nature walks and hikes twice a month here in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York. I’ve dubbed the group the, “Wild Walkers”. I’m hoping more cancer survivors will join me, but want to also welcome people who love and support  cancer survivors. Come celebrate life with me, one step at a time.  Visit www.melissaeppardcoaching.com/events for more info on the two types of walks. Make sure your doctor has cleared you for exercise and join me for Walk Gently or Walk Strong, depending on what your body needs.


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