I fall, there I said it. Not sure where you may fit on the spectrum of setbacks? How many times has something come into your life without your asking for it and just knocked you off your feet, made you stop working, exercising, trusting or moving forward? 

A fire forced me out of my business just one year ago, 7 years prior to that a massive water-skiing injury necessitated many orthopedic surgeries. And now – cancer. Just the word cancer threw me off track again with a kind of humility I was not prepared for. Cancer is a force entirely of its own nature. How do we co-habitat or co-exist with a cancer of any kind? I have the best kind of cancer – the most common kind, and the easiest to treat- also known as basal cell carcinoma or… skin cancer. But it is still cancer… 

Fire, water and wind are all forces of nature which can clear a new pathway or leave debris, rubble and destruction like no other. Each of these elements can turn the tides, stir the “winds of change”, or reveal a new foundation to begin again. My life, over the past ten years, can attest to the toll and subsequent opportunity these forces of nature can bring. My nature, true nature, has been affected, stirred and tested, as my truth continues to unfold.

Sitting with stitching down my entire nose and bruising all over my face is a reminder that the cancer was successfully removed, that in order to minimize scarring and restore the space with normal face colored tissue, I was fortunate to have a MOHS procedure followed by a “flap plastic surgery” by a very talented surgeon. The surgery is now past and the healing well advanced, so why do I still reflect and feel compelled to write & share?

Hello, this is fear calling, will you take the call, or will you fall? Yes, I will and I’m listening:

I am here today because of fear. I’m sitting with fear and loss, again…and I get it… this is not an aggressive hard to treat and invasive cancer. I could not ask for a more treatable kind to remove and recover from. But…I didn’t ask for this or see it coming. I play by the rules and protect against harm. So, what I think the lesson unfolding here, under the “fold” and skin is: that set backs have universal themes that can take some of the sting out of the surprise event. We don’t ask for disruption, we get taken by surprise, and change happens without our permission or say. So what can we do to better cope and move forward? Let’s go back to nature and our true nature.

What universal themes and natural responses to set backs can we honor and observe:

  1. Loss, what have I got to lose? When something happens to your body, your loved one, your business or your house- it is never the “thing” that you are mourning or grieving it is the void, the empty space –Loss. What we thought we had, worked on, showed up for, built and cared for, isn’t the same any more or it is gone. How to accept that and properly grieve or impact these stirrings, feelings and losses?
  2. Nature, our nature, Mother Nature is a force that we must honor and move with, not against. No matter what is happening, think of yourself as a plant needing sunlight, water, consistent care, weeding, growing and transforming. Bathe in the basics of nature, set your roots, and nourish your nature. Eat, drink, smell, touch, and rest are best. Easy and obvious right? Not so much because when you are set back and trying to “get back” to what no longer is, and what you thought it was, you are mostly- eating, sleeping, and drinking alone. Typically, most of the time you are recovering, whether it be in or out of a bed, loneliness is a constant companion in your landscape of life. But…nature is a constant and one that can be a constant companion.
  3. Change is a constant and with loss there is always gain. What new thing has taken the place or has been added since you lost something? It is not “skin off my nose” that has me writing and thinking. It is the humble observation that we never have what we think we have and that things keep changing. Recently, I had a conversation with a woman about raising kids. When you have kids out of the house, those that have kids still in the house, may think you have mastered raising children and no longer have the… fill in the blank -driving, worry, work, etc. But you usually drive further, worry longer, and lose the freedom to see and be with your kids. I surprised myself with the simplicity of what I was saying when I simply remarked that the one thing you can count on is that, when it comes to raising children “it just keeps changing”. Now, think about that for a bit- life just keeps changing…jobs, significant others, gains and losses and that thing called life. Release the perceived anchor you have staked into the ground because the inevitable tides of changed keep coming.
  4. Trust the process, the Professionals, and the “Regulars” in your life. The disarming part comes in the beginning of your set back: Something took you by surprise… for me fire, water, motor vehicles and even a damn bowling ball hit me once and shattered my lower leg. You had no idea, were playing by the rules of the game, and something took you out, knocked you down but more than that derailed you and displaced you. If you are as lucky as we are to live in a place like New England, you have world class medical professionals who have given an amazing portion of their life and study to sew you back up so to speak. You have options, procedures, protocols and places and spaces to process and heal from trauma, grief, and natural disasters. You have your “Regulars” those family members, friends, coworkers, clients, and., yes, pets to look-listen-and feel. Again, it is not the “thing” the soup, the flowers, or the cards -but the collective caring for whatever part of you needs “Mother Nature’ – food, water, air, and grounding. 

If you look at a house burning, the aftermath of an accident, the loss of a loved one, natural disaster or trauma there are life lessons. There is something tangible and universal and what that is, is our nature, our human nature to cling to what we know, to fear change, to fight set back and to want to move through and against, instead of with the elements of change agents. We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and gate keepers of change. How do we crack open a new door and let some natural light in, a gentle breeze, and a trusted friend?

In the words of one of my favorite social media inspirations, from the waters of Italy, and from my heart here are four principles:





Observe- our human nature is to resist change and cling to what is familiar. Accept- growth only comes from discomfort, loss, and change. Release- shame, fear, guilt and negative energies that bind you and keep the old you coming through. Transform- go beyond the norm and don’t chase the storm. The natural change agent is movement, breath, reading, writing, and connecting with others who have shared similar pain. What is in, and under that wound, must be healed and transformed with natural movement that smooths the scar.

Movement and nature are the natural elements that can transform your pain into something else that pleases you. One of our deepest needs and desires “after the fire” is to return to our true nature, that essence and place where we feel the most free and effortless version of ourselves. Just like nature, we are always both rising and falling, ebbing and flowing.

“At any moment you have two voices in your head: One that tells you that you can’t and another that tells you can. Which one will prove true? The one you give the most attention to. The one you act on. The one you make a stand for.”- Alan Cohen

Which is true is up to you.

The one you say out loud.

The one you express physically.

The one you make so.

Triogo® …make it so.

Donna Ognibene is a Movement Specialist and owner of Bodytrio. Triogo™ is her training system and movement philosophy. Donna is a Lululemon Legacy Ambassador, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Consultant to Harvard Women’s Swim and Dive, she is also a SAG Actor and Fitness/Lifestyle Model with NEMG. She resides in the Boston area with her husband, 3 daughters, and dogs Gracie and Nico.