Combating Cancer With Conservation

In June of 2009 I had barely known Stacia for a month and was invited to accompany her for the annual Relay for Life in Sycamore, Illinois. One of her friends, Keri, had lost her best friend, Mike to cancer. He was only 26.


I attended the event not knowing what to expect other than a late night. Nobody exceptionally close to me had cancer although I’ve always heard a lot about it and feared it greatly. I had lost my Doberman, Baby, to bone cancer but she was 12 which is pretty old for a big dog. (Her loss hurt me greatly nonetheless.)

Deer Run Forest Preserve in Winnebago County, Illinois where a large prairie/grassland is under restoration
Deer Run Forest Preserve

The evening of Relay for Life was actually quite fun and not as much of a “downer” as I had anticipated. We rode in a hot air balloon, ate good food, and hung out with some pretty cool people. But as the night came and the luminaries were lit, my emotions were rattled.

Each of these luminaries represented someone who was fighting cancer or who had lost their battle. They lit up the entire looped walking path making any other light superfluous.

Listening to people talk about their experiences with cancer and why they were at this event easily made me teary-eyed. I held Stacia the entire time and we barely said a word. We didn’t need to. It was then when I realized that this was the woman I wanted to marry.

So how can conservation help fight cancer? Directly, it really doesn’t. Restoring an acre of prairie won’t heal someone with stomach cancer. But conserving land and protecting the environment provides several key ways to help reduce the chances of getting cancer.

From Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s book Anticancer, A New Way of Life, New Edition:

“All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all of us will develop cancer . . . cancer cells lie dormant in all of us . . . we all must care for the “terrain” in which they exist.”

Three of the major ways to fight cancer relate directly to outdoor experiences:

  1. exercise
  2. stress reduction
  3. minimizing environmental toxins

Conserved land enables more diversity of plants and animals, providing more incentive to hike and enjoy nature. The more parks and preserves, interesting walking paths, and beautiful places to explore the more reasons people have to remove themselves from electronics and get “natural” exercise.

A woodland of birds and wildflowers has a lot more appeal than the treadmill that is collecting dust and articles of clothing.

Outside exercise also doubles as a stress-reducer. Numerous studies show how beneficial walking is and spending more time outside hiking and exploring means less time dwelling on problems and uncertainty. Walking stimulates problem-solving and is a great way to improve your mood.

Stress is terrible for your overall health and according to Anticancer it feeds cancer cells.

Finally, conserved land helps protect water sources, improves air quality, and helps offset carbon. Improving soil quality without use of harsh chemicals means better food sources and less chances of toxins entering the body.

I’ll be walking for Relay For Life for my second year in a row on June 18th. Please help by sharing this post or if you can, donate to our team (under Eddie Callaway).

Nygren Wetlands, a fantastic protected area that has nesting Sandhill Cranes among other cool stuff
Nygren Wetlands

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