Outdoorsy with Cancer: How Nature and Photography Saved My Life During Breast Cancer Treatment

I’m just a little (a lot) outdoorsy 

I don’t just love the outdoors, I live for the outdoors–camping, hiking, backpacking, canoeing, and exploring. From a young age, spending time in nature wasn’t just something we did occasionally. It was something we did everyday, and the indoors was reserved for sleeping and movie nights (and sometimes not even that). 

Carrie post hair loss (cycle 2), in a wig, camping on May long weekend 2022 

Now as an adult, my life is centered around two passions: the outdoors and photography. In December 2021, I was a few months into my dream job doing marketing for an outdoor retailer, gearing up to launch a professional photography business, and a newly single mother to a beautiful 7-year-old boy. Life was good and we were ready to take on the world. 

Slamming into a brick wall

That all changed when I felt a… you know what. Like slamming into a brick wall doing 100km/hr, in an instant, my shiny new life came to a screeching halt. 

“You have breast cancer.”

I have a BRCA1 mutation, and, in December 2021, I was diagnosed with triple-negative synchronous bilateral breast cancer (yep, you read that right… I had two tumours, one in each breast). Luckily, we caught it early, and I’m stage 2A. 

I’ve had two sentinel lymph node surgeries, a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and am roughly halfway through a 6-cycle FEC-D chemotherapy regimen. Following chemotherapy, I’ll have another surgery to complete my breast reconstruction, and a preventative ovario-hysterectomy. The (seemingly endless) countdown is on! 

Let’s try and make this all… not suck

Needless to say, I’ve been through a lot since December. I should’ve been buried by the weight of my diagnosis. Luckily, I had those two passions. Remember them? The outdoors and photography. 

Now, obviously my number one motivator to get through this is my little dude. My rockstar, my ever-optimistic adventurer whose only response to my struggles is “you’ve got this, mommy.” But he’s in school, he’s got friends, and he loves spending time at his grandma’s house. Which means that leaves me alone, dwelling in my basement A LOT. 

Carrie canoeing in spring after cycle 1 of chemo

So, I get outside, camera in hand. Not every day, but most days. Sometimes I have a goal, and sometimes I sit on my backyard porch. I hike (little hikes), went camping in the snow, and canoed in the mountains this spring while most of the lakes were still frozen. I prioritize eating suppers outside with my son and the crackle of a fire in the evening makes my heart soar. Nature makes me whole… and capturing moments outdoors ensures I’ll never forget our experiences. 

Without nature and photography, I wouldn’t be as optimistic as I am. I wouldn’t be as driven, as healthy, or as energetic. I wouldn’t be able to be there as much for my son. I’m one of the lucky ones who is tolerating chemotherapy well, and I’m using the moments I have to enrich my life with the things that fulfill me, rather than become crushed under the weight of everything I’ve been through. 

I urge you to try these two things:

If you’re not outdoorsy, I’m not telling you to go explore deep in the backcountry. If you’re not a photographer, don’t worry about spending hours editing! But everyone can benefit from spending a little more time outdoors, and I’ll argue that capturing these moments—while you’re in the fight for your life—will be something that you’ll want to look back on, one day. These things make me happy, and I’m just over here trying to spread some positivity while we all fully acknowledge that cancer SUCKS. 

My name is Carrie, and I’m an adventure photographer and mother in Alberta, Canada. Now, I’m outdoorsy with cancer. Same same, for the most part… and I’m here to show you how I’m kicking cancer’s ass while exploring the great outdoors! — Carrie

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