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Southwest Life Health And the West is History Community Travel

A walk outdoors can ease stress of cancer

Support group serves survivors, patients, caregivers
Blueprints of Hope and Live by Living are offering twice-monthly walks along the Animas River Trail for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. From left are Monie Schlarb, Carroll Groeger, Lani Graham and Ellen Alterman.

A new program in Durango offers a chance for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers to experience the outdoors through walking and hiking.

Blueprints of Hope, a local nonprofit, recently partnered with a Denver-based nonprofit, Live by Living, to offer a 2-mile walk on the second and fourth Fridays of the month. Participants meet at the Common Grounds Café at the Durango Public Library at 10 a.m. and walk along the Animas River Trail.

Toni Abbey, executive director of Blueprints of Hope, said the walks combine socializing, outdoor activities and an added physical benefit for those experiencing the difficulties of cancer.

“I think nature has many restorative properties,” Abbey said. “It can help manage the stress of treatment and recovery and provides a sense of escape from the stresses of daily life and cancer.”

Mary Shepherd, a Durango resident and cancer survivor, said the program caters to the active culture in Durango.

“It isn’t just sitting around in a room,” Shepherd said. “It is a community of survivors who are active, and it speaks to the people in Durango who are looking for support services because it is hard to find support groups in the area.”

Live by Living was started by Dan Miller, who works as an assistant attorney general in Denver.

Miller met his wife, Julie Wrend, after she had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer at 34.

“During the entire time we were together, we did a ton of outdoor stuff together,” Miller said. “We were outside all the time, and I saw how important it was to her after any kind of crisis point in her cancer journey to get back outside and hiking in the mountains and desert as soon as she could.”

Wrend died in November 2007. She and Miller had been married for 15 years.

After Wrend’s death, Miller wanted to share with other people going through cancer the benefits he and Wrend received from being outside. In 2009, he led his first retreat to a hut in the Front Range mountains. This year, he has 11 planned trips.

“So it’s growing,” he said.

Miller hopes to expand the program nationwide.

The walk in Durango is in its early stages, Abbey said. Each week, anywhere from one to 10 participants attend, but she expects that number to grow.

“Our goal is to not just to do walks, which is entry level,” Abbey said. “We’re trying to add on hikes, and then, eventually, have our own retreats. But that’s a ways down the road.”

A trained mental health or health care professional facilitates a group discussion, which can range anywhere from nature spottings to stories of kids at school to cancer treatments.

Participants can walk as long as they’d like, Abbey said. And, everyone is welcome.

“Anyone affected by cancer is welcome to come – friends, family, caregivers,” Abbey said. “Because cancer affects everyone.”


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