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The Overlook

by Brooke BarnesSurvivor, Chronic Myeloid LeukemiaFebruary 17, 2022View more posts from Brooke Barnes

Everything is so green. That’s what I remember thinking on the ride back to my apartment after my hospital stay. Being someone who enjoys spending time outside, two weeks of being stuck inside four white hospital room walls with a window overlooking a city street was pretty much torture, especially after a leukemia diagnosis. On the ride home I was weak and could hardly sit up for longer than a few minutes, but I wanted to keep looking out the window at how much the world had come alive in the early days of spring.

I’ve always loved being outside. As a kid I would spend hours playing next to the creek in my backyard and climbing pine trees. When I went to college, I was lucky enough to have a gorge to escape to that was only a few hundred yards from my dorm room and when things got stressful, that’s where you would find me. When I moved to the Cleveland area after college, I had no idea that there was a national park close by. But when I found it, I knew I had my new escape.

There’s one specific trail that’s extremely popular in that park, and it has an overlook that gives you a perfect view of the sunset. What I love about that spot is that some evenings you might have the view to yourself, but on other nights there are huge crowds of all different types of people that come to watch the colors of red, yellow and orange light up the sky. There are couples, groups of friends and people like me who end up there alone, and I always look around and wonder about each of their stories and what they have on their mind. While everyone’s experience is different, we all have something in common when we’re sitting there taking a pause from life to just watch the sunset. We’re all there to appreciate the beauty of something that happens every single day.

I think for me that certainty is what draws me to being outdoors. Even when my life was turned upside down from a cancer diagnosis, I could go back to that overlook and the sun would still be there setting once again and putting on a show for me to enjoy. On my worst days I would go to a place like that and just think that no matter what was going on, I could always take a pause to go back, and it would be waiting for me to enjoy the beauty. Even on my drive home from the hospital, nature was showing up with tulips, hyacinth and daffodils springing up everywhere, showing that new life is always around the corner.

Sometimes it’s not that easy to find hope. Even though I’m largely in the survivorship chapter of my cancer experience, sometimes I think about what would happen if I just stopped taking my medication. Just this week after increasing my dose of medication to try and make my leukemia undetectable, I found out my count of cancer cells is basically the same. It’s hard to find the answer to why you should keep trying sometimes when things feel so complicated or you’re not making the progress you want to.

While discouraging things like this happen, I can always go back to thinking about experiences I still want to have. I want more backpacking trips and nights under the stars. I want to see more waterfalls and to jump in and swim in them. I want to see the northern lights. I want more sunsets at the overlook.

If you ever have a tough day or feel like you can’t take what life is throwing at you anymore, consider stepping outside. You don’t need fancy gear or to drive far away to a big sprawling park. Just take the first step out your front door. Look up and see the clouds or the sun. Find a bird flying overhead and watch to see where it goes next or see how silly the squirrels running around you are. Or best yet, go watch the sunset. No matter what you have going on, nature will always be there waiting for you.

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