How Hunting Helped My Recovery from Cancer
October 31, 2023
In June of 2022, I went in for my second-ever routine mammogram and soon discovered I had breast cancer. When I first heard those words, “you have invasive ductal carcinoma” my head started spinning. I immediately had to learn a new language, find doctors and make a litany of appointments. My oncologist told me I would need to go through six months of chemotherapy, have a single or double mastectomy, have 6 – 8 weeks of radiation therapy, and finally 10 years of hormone therapy.
“Getting the cancer diagnosis meant that I would have to change some of the ways I like to recharge in nature – at least in the short term.”
As I looked at my chemotherapy schedule, I knew my life was about to undergo many big changes. One of the first things that came to mind was that I wouldn’t make it to hunting camp at mom and dad’s this year. I was bummed, I had been planning to try going after a bear. I also didn’t know if I was going to go out turkey hunting. I had never gone before and spent the year learning how to use a call, getting the right equipment, and learning how to use our new crossbow. I live in Michigan and my folks live in New York, but every Thanksgiving we head to deer hunting camp at mom and dad’s. I look forward to that long week in the woods every year. Spending time in the woods rejuvenates my soul.
Hunting and fishing is something our family has always done together. When I was about 5, my Dad took me out for a day of fishing. I had a blast, so much so that every weekend day after that we woke up early to go fishing. After a while Dad was hoping to find an excuse to sleep in, but didn’t have the heart to tell me no. Well, he thought the day finally came when it was wet and rainy one morning. He came into my room to wake me up and said “you don’t really want to go this morning, do you? It’s wet and rainy, it won’t be any fun.” To which I responded; “Well, that wouldn’t be very sportsmanlike would it?”
Since then we’ve had many great adventures on the water and in the woods. I fish for whatever will fit in my freezer, mostly spin casting for panfish and bass. I primarily hunt for deer, but have hunted turkey, elk, squirrel, and rabbit.
Getting the cancer diagnosis meant that I would have to change some of the ways I like to recharge in nature – at least in the short term. The chemo brought on many negative side effects: nausea, constipation, my hair fell out, and I was very tired. I learned how to manage the symptoms and how to give myself grace. Although travelling to New York would be too much, I was determined to do some hunting in Michigan. I knew it would be different: I needed to listen to my body and stay home when I was too tired and I had to find a different hat since my old one was not warm enough for my bald head. But I needed to get outside and try to make the best of a tough diagnosis.
Last fall, my husband and I left our children with their grandparents while we went Up North to a friend’s property during whitetail bow season. It’s a small, 15-acre piece of land that has not had many people hunt it for quite some time. We only have one crossbow for both of us. My husband hunted in the morning while I spent some time reading and resting. After lunch I went out.
“This was the first time I had harvested a deer with a crossbow, the first time an animal had been harvested from that piece of land in over 50 years and I did it with a bald head.
I could see the car from my tree stand, which I am thankful for as I was not ready to walk any distance. It was cool and overcast, but I stayed toasty warm in my new hat. It was supposed to snow in the early evening. I sat and listed to the gentle song of the blue jay (SQUAK!!), a red squirrel went about its business collecting food and a banditry of chickadees worked their way through the clearing. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, the kind you only feel when you are in the woods.
Then that stillness came, the one where the whole forest seems to become quiet. That’s when I saw the flick of the white tail. There was at least one deer, but it was pretty far away and I only saw the tail. I decided I would try my new call.
I called on and off over the next half hour or so. The evening light started taking over the landscape and a light snow flurry began to fall. There was still plenty of shooting light when he came sauntering along the path, towards me. I felt like I was in a dream as he stopped to smell and listen. He continued to walk toward me. He went right to the big scrape that was not more than 30 yards from my stand and turned broadside.
I took my aim and was successful. This was the first time I had harvested a deer with a crossbow, the first time an animal had been harvested from that piece of land in over 50 years and I did it with a bald head.
As we drove home the next morning, my heart was grateful and my soul felt refreshed. I was ready to continue my fight against cancer.
This season, I have finished active cancer treatment. My hair is growing back, I have more energy and I have very few symptoms from my hormone therapy. I am thankful that the cancer is gone and am looking forward to trying for that turkey this year.