One might say that having cancer three times is the ultimate eye-opening experience in regards to health, yet I don’t believe it was cancer that had me stop and think about my physical and mental well-being.

It was a couple of years after the 3rd diagnosis of cancer; my Canadian best friend visited me at my Park City, Utah, home. It was turning cold outdoors and feeling unpleasant to me. Most likely, I was complaining that I was not living on a small Caribbean island, as the previous winter. She looked at me and said, “embrace the seasons.” As we chatted about the biting cold and the gray sky winter carried with it, she urged me to get outdoors and find something to connect to the good of the changing forecasts.

Soon after, I found myself hiking small trails behind my home amongst tall pines and the crackle of hardened snow beneath my boots. Together with my safety dogs, Bella and Capone, I took the first steps into what felt so wild and foreign to me. 

The forest begged me to explore deeper, and each day I felt myself getting lost among the barren branches stricken with frost. 

Submerged to unrecognized sounds of Mother Nature, my breath began to slow down amongst the unknown. 

And just as the comfort of being outdoors in the presence of moose became ordinary, the scenery changed. My career took me to Western North Carolina, the land I like to refer to as Narnia. Expansive landscape of sprawling green ferns and moss hug the forest floor. As I hiked, there was one area in particular, where the mountain kiss the sky, that whispered to jump into the deep end of the pool.

Cervical cancer, ovarian cancer times two, and a breast cancer scare should have opened my eyes, yet for over three decades, I had merely just been surviving life. There had been yoga and books and running, and while I credit those for saving my life in terms of wanting to be healthy, it was the depth of forest conversation that breathed a desire not just to live, but to do the work to embrace the seasons. 

No longer was it about the temperature. It was about acceptance, gratitude, self-love, letting go, being still, listening, understanding, allowing, feeling, and being ok with all those things that made me or contributed to who I am. For the first time in life, I was breathing for myself and not allowing the outside world to dictate the daily pace of my unconscious breath. 

In surviving, I believed mental toughness was working harder and not allowing anyone to see weakness, and of course, not stopping to smell the roses. Aka, not taking time for me or the things that fill my cup.

As the exploration of the stillness whispers of the smoky mountains deepened, the breath went internal.

The forest called for connection. Deep, rooted, raw connection. It was here, the understanding of physical and mental well-being became deeper than the scars of my past. No longer could I dip my toes into the sandy beaches, and it be enough. 

The wilderness, the wild, the trees, the sky, the leaves, all begging me to embrace the seasons. The seasons of life experience, the seasons of pain, and the seasons of connection.

The Appalachian mountains are where I came to know and understand the need for the quiet, the conversation, and the gratitude of raw, unplugged connection. 

Where the mountains kiss the sky was the truth to discovering that our well-being, mental and physical, is more critical than exhausting ourselves in survival mode. Nothing is more important than health-

Not the email, not the negative self chatter, and not mediocre things that waste our time.

Step into the wild, your wild, and connect to your breath. Feel the crunch of the leaves, taste the air, and listen, because somewhere between that first step and the last is the true north you’ve been searching for.