Walking Through Cancer

Johima Img 00722

Cover image: When author Brenda Johima was working through cancer treatments, she found solace and inspiration in her nature walks around Vancouver Island. All images: Brenda Johima

Never in a million years did I think that I would get breast cancer.

I lead a healthy, athletic life for most of my life. Fitness, recreation, the outdoors and nature were always a big part of my life as a youth and young adult. I was fortunate to have grown up with a Finnish father who taught us from a young age, that “your health is number one” and “without your health you have nothing,” he would say in his heavy Finnish accent. He was, and still is, right.

On December 24, 2013 (yes, on Christmas Eve day) my life suddenly took a turn. I discovered a lump in my breast. Immediately I went to a walk-in clinic and thank goodness a great doctor listened to me and ordered both an urgent ultrasound and mammogram. After two biopsies it was discovered that I had an aggressive grade 3 breast cancer. Surgery removed the mass. Chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapies followed. I am still recovering from an onslaught of treatments and surgeries.

When Oboz asked me to write about my personal experience with breast cancer and how hiking played a role in my journey, I was thrilled. But each time I sat down to write this, I kept circling back to my boots. Specifically: my Oboz Rio Red Bridger Mid BDry I bought before I even knew about the Oboz Trail Team ambassadors.

Brenda while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Truth be told, I first fell for the color—rich and red. But as a woman who will always buy for function and perfect fit over color, I knew better than to buy looks alone. I tried them on. Voila! The perfect fit. I took them home and right out of the box, no breaking in was needed for me. Anyone who has purchased a pair of great quality hiking boot knows that’s rare.

Anyone who has had breast cancer knows how sensitive your skin can become. Not only did I have breast cancer, but I also have fibromyalgia and chronic pain as a result of a car accident in the year 2000. So I am the perfect advocate for good footwear. Why? I am sensitive to every little thing. Some would say overly sensitive. Even hyper-sensitive.

Teddy the poodle, British Columbia's outdoors, and red boots are a recipe for joy.

Footwear for me was crucial to both my cancer recovery and well being during treatments. Footwear forms the foundation on which the rest of your body can have comfort; your feet and ankles, knees, hips, back and neck, all depend on good footwear.

My footwear needs to be comfortable, supportive, have just the right amount of cushion, good ankle and foot support but without anything digging in anywhere, no seams or stress points. That was true before breast cancer. During and after breast cancer treatment, it became even more important.

So did I walk and hike while I had breast cancer?

Yes, I kept walking throughout my cancer treatments as much as I could, although some days I was just too tired to even get out the door. But fortunately when I did go out, I was minutes away from both forest and beach walks on Vancouver Island, so I could let nature do her healing.

Was it easy to get out there to walk and hike? Some days, no, not at all. I was so exhausted I was barely able to get out of bed or to even climb a flight of stairs. Walking a half a block seemed impossible, for someone who just prior to cancer, was walking her dog 5-10K per day.

Since I got my red boots I have spent many a day trudging through muckily muddy water logged trails scouring over barnacles and slippery beach rocks sea weed laden sandy coves and pebble coated log strewn crunchy oyster cracking west coast pathways.

Brenda Johima, Vancouver, British Columbia: After surviving breast cancer, artist Brenda Johima was more inspired than ever to make a difference and help others. She does this, in part, by inspiring herself through hiking and nature. Find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her website, which showcases her art.

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