Group gets cancer survivors back outdoors

A "support group on legs" organized by a Durango, Colo.-based nonprofit group helps cancer survivors and patients get back outdoors through short, easy hikes along the Animas River twice a month

Virginia A. Jones
Special to The Daily Times
Participants in a Live by Living "Walk Along the River" event stroll along the Animas River Trail in Durango, Colo., on March 25.
  • A walking group aimed at cancer survivors, patients and caregivers meets twice a month in Durango.
  • Walks are organized by Blueprints of Hope, which sponsors the Southwest chapter of Live By Living.
  • The program eases cancer patients back into the outdoors and fosters camaraderie among suruvivors
  • Studies show exercise can positively affect patients' prognosis and mental and physical well-being.

FARMINGTON — For many Four Corners residents, spending time outdoors is a way of life.

And one nonprofit organization is working to help cancer survivors get back outside as part of their recovery.

Twice a month, survivors can participate in walks along the Animas River in Durango, Colo. The walks are organized by Blueprints of Hope, a nonprofit based in Durango, Colo., that provides services for cancer survivors.

"The issues of survivorship may never end, and it takes a whole village to support those survivors," said the group’s executive director, Toni Abbey.

The walking group — which Abbey calls "a support group on legs" — launched at the start of the year.

On the second and fourth Fridays of the month, cancer survivors, as well as patients and caregivers, meet at the Durango Public Library and then walk an easy, one-mile route, with an option to walk two miles, along the Animas River.

The goal is to get survivors back into nature, something that “helps to embrace life again and to become used to a new normal,” Abbey explained.

Participants in a March 25 Live by Living "Walk Along the River" event walk along the Animas River in Durango, Colo.

Just being outside can improve a survivor’s mood, said Jennie Stone, a cancer survivor who has participated in the walks since the first one in January. She said even a little exercise can help, especially during chemotherapy.

"It feels better when you’ve been out in the fresh air," she said. "It helps with healing and depression, and it is an inspiration to be around people who have battled cancer or are still battling it."

The local program started when Abbey was researching outdoor exercise initiative and learned about Live by Living.

Established in 2009 in Denver, Live by Living programs are "oriented around walking in nature — getting outdoors, whether it’s walking around the block, in the park or climbing a mountain," said program founder Dan Miller in a recent phone interview.

Miller started the program in 2008 in honor of his wife, Julie Wrend, who survived 19 years beyond her breast cancer diagnosis by walking, hiking and spending time in the outdoors. Wrend died in November 2007 at age 53.

"It’s healing to still have the chance to get outside and exercise," Miller said.

From left, Ken Oros and Lani Graham talk on March 25 as they participate in a walk along the Animas River in Durango, Colo. Blueprints of Hope organizes bimonthly walks along the river for cancer survivors, patients and caregivers.

Blueprints of Hope now sponsors the Southwest chapter of Live by Living.

In its first year, Live by Living offered one retreat and a single hike. This year, it will offer 11 retreats, including two snowshoe retreats, and at least 60 hikes and walks. Grants and corporate and individual donations cover the costs of the events,  making them free to participants.

"It’s important to get away from the focus on cancer. People share their experiences informally, but really, they’re more apt to talk about the wild flowers than cancer," Miller said.

Louden Kiracofe, top right, talks on March 25 with members of a walking support group at the Durango Public Library in Durango, Colo. Blueprint of Hope, a Durango, Colo.-based nonprofit, organizes walks along the Animas River twice a week for cancer survivors, patients and caregivers.

Even short walks outside can lead to improved self-esteem and confidence in one’s abilities, as well as reduced anxiety, depression and fear, according to both Miller and Abbey.

And studies have found that physical activities can improve cancer patients’ prognosis, helping them with fatigue and energy, as well as their psychological well-being, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Miller explains that it’s a simple formula that can have a profound effect for survivors.

"The solace of nature, its beauty, and the camaraderie of shared experience work wonders," he said.

Virginia A. Jones covers the outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at ginnyj1221@gmail.com.

If you go

What: Live by Living "Walk Along the River"

When: 10 a.m. Friday. Group meets on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.

Where: Meet at the Common Grounds coffee and sandwich shop inside the Durango Public Library, 1900 E. Third Ave. in Durango, Colo.

Register: Go to livebyliving.org to register for a walk.

More info: For more about the services Blueprint of Hope offers — including resources, support activities and discussion and support groups — go to blueprintsofhope.org.

Ken Oros, center, joins a conversation on March 25 before a walk along the Animas River in Durango, Colo. Cancer survivors, patients and caregivers meet twice a month to walk along the river, which can improve both their physical and mental well-being.

Local resources

While Farmington does not have a walking group for cancer survivors, the San Juan Regional Cancer Center employs an exercise physiologist who works with cancer patients, according to Fran Robinson, a cancer navigation nurse at the center.

Patients can participate in a supervised exercise program that offers "aerobic, resistance and balance exercises to help improve your muscular strength, endurance and bone density," according to the program's website.

The program includes two to four sessions a week for 10 weeks. The cost is $100.

For more information, call 505-609-6575.