Snowshoeing Visualization & Coping With Cancer

White-clad medical technicians snapped metal bolts through the mesh mask to immobilize my head. Straps constrained my body to the table that would slide me into the radiotherapy machine.

The donut-shaped radiotherapy device emitted clunking noises like a worn-out laundry machine.
Radiation would, in theory, kill a golf-ball-like tumor at the base of my tongue and a five-centimeter-long tumor beneath my right jaw bone.

snow covered trees in a snowstorm and woman in background

I panicked. My chest shook like trees buffeted by typhoon winds.

Visualizations For Cancer Coping & Relief

Before entering the hospital, a friend suggested that I use visualization to deal with the hellish conditions to come. Trying to cope with cancer and what was next, I visualized my last snowshoeing trip with my wife and my faithful nature-loving dog.

dog in the snow - Goodmacher

My nature-loving dog enjoying the snow on one of our snowshoe trips

We walked into a tunnel of snow-bowed cedar. The wind pushed clumps of snow off branches. My black dog leaped to catch silver snowflakes in her white teeth.

My mind froze those snowflakes in mid-air and zoomed inward. It marveled at the crystalline structure—such beauty. I let the flakes fall. My wife laughed as clouds of sparkling snow fell on her.

Then, I was back in the treatment room with my swollen tongue pointing from my ulcerated mouth toward the ceiling. Green bile and blood stuck to bandages on my neck.

In the Hospital

Before I had checked myself into the hospital, my doctor told me I would require three bouts of chemotherapy during seven weeks of radiotherapy. But kidney problems and side effects extended the treatment period to three months. I shared hospital rooms with many depressed and anxious patients.

woman smiling and laughing in the snow, coping with cancer through visulaization

Laughing and enjoying the snowfall.

Some were dying. A private conversation between my neighbor, his doctor, and his counselor slipped past the corrugated white plastic curtains. I heard them say that his cancer was incurable. That evening, I listened to his restless breathing and twisting in his bed. His aloneness, my aloneness, and our fears weighed on me.

For solace, I visualized another location in nature. I walked along a path between towering ferns in a verdant rainforest until reaching a stone cliff bathed in sunlight.

A circling eagle screeched. I climbed ancient steps carved into the cliff and found the eagle waiting on a ledge. Like old friends sitting side by side, we watched the sun fly over the forest canopy. At sunset, the eagle pointed his beak toward a cave in the cliff. I walked inside.

One golden sunray shone through a hole in the cave roof onto the warm cave floor. I lay down. The golden light entered my mouth, passed through my throat, and filled my body. My beloved dog from my childhood days, another from my thirties, and my current dog entered the cave. They pressed their warm bodies against mine. I felt love and healing.

Returning Home

Before leaving the hospital and going home, my doctor told me that the primary tumor had melted away. However, three centimeters of the secondary tumor remained. Were live cancer cells lingering in that mass? I could only wait for my next CT scan.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy had destroyed my body’s ability to maintain an average temperature, and I was much thinner. Although I left the hospital in late summer, I wore a thick down-jacket in the sunlight while my wife wore sandals and a short skirt. Walking my dog, I stopped to rest more often than she wanted. Exhausted and afraid of cancer recurrence, I found refuge in the healing woods within my mind.

man on hill with snowshoes, observing nature, visualizations for coping with cancer

Relaxing and observing the beauty of nature

While my worries embraced me, Earth continued circling the sun. Winter arrived.

I stood at the base of a forested slope with forty runners with snowshoes. A whistle blew. They loped uphill. Gulping cold air, I walked as fast as possible. The trail reached a peak. I ran through trees, slid down small canyons, shuffled upward, and trudged onward. The trail circled. I was feeling proud when I was about to pass an elementary-school-aged girl, but she turned left to take the eight-kilometer path.

I turned right toward the finish line of the four-kilometer race. Someone rang a metal bell as I shuffled between a pair of trees showing the end. Exhausted, I let myself fall to the soft snow. Wrapped in snow wear, I stared at the white treetops and the blue sky. I felt damn good.

man with arms outstretched under a tree full of snow - Goodmacher

Embracing the wonders of nature!

More To Come

A month later, after another CT scan, I was just one of the numerous cancer patients waiting for doctors in the head and throat cancer department. Some patients had jagged scars on their necks after tongue or larynx removal. They couldn’t speak. If cancer remained, I would need similar surgery. Afraid to learn what the CT scan showed, I returned to the woods in my mind.

On snowshoes, I walked toward a massive cedar tree. My forehead pressed against the rough bark. Leafy branches bent. They hugged and squeezed me. Tree aroma entered my nostrils as I passed through the dark bark into a world of moving light and warmth. My body separated into trillions of cells, which joined rivers of nutrients and water traveling through the trunk, branches, and leaves.

As I circulated through the tree, cancer cells flowed to the tips of the roots, which flung them through miles of soil into boiling magma. My cleansed and strengthened cells regrouped in the heartwood. Then the tree eased me outward.

A nurse announced my name. The doctor told me that all the cancer cells had melted away.

man walking on mountain peak with blue skies- Goodmacher

Hiking up a real mountain

Cancer Coping: From Then To Now

Five years before that day, another doctor had informed me that my chance of surviving five years was less than forty percent.

I still return to the healing forests in my mind, and I snowshoe, with gratitude, in the real forests in the mountains near my home.

And I advise others fighting cancer. The mind-body connection is more than an abstract concept. It’s a real coping mechanism for cancer. I hope that you don’t need my advice, but if you do, find healing woods in your mind. And if you’re healthy, walk up a mountain.

Read Next:

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Snowshoeing With A Knee Injury
Do What You Love: Biking Through Cancer Treatment
Curing Winter Sports Injuries With… Stem Cells?
Snowshoeing Saved My Life


  • Greg Goodmacher

    Greg Goodmacher loves water when it falls as snow, drops from waterfalls, flows in rivers, and heals his body in hot springs. He enjoys his life in Japan and aims to share his joy through his writing. He is a part-time writer of EFL textbooks, travel articles, and a blog about Japanese hot springs. His full-time position is university professor at Keiwa College in Shibata, Japan, where he teaches English conversation, intercultural communication, and environmental issues.

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  • Greg, this is a beautiful piece of writing. Replaying precious memories of special times in the out-of-doors certainly helped you through your excruciatingly difficult treatments and healing. Your recounting of your coping mechanism will surely be helpful to others. The photos you included added a lot to your personal narrative. I love the touches of red and orange in the primarily black and while photos.

    • Dear Sheila, Thank you very much for your comments on my story. I hope that my experience can help others to overcome difficulties. If we do not help others, our lives have little meaning.

  • Hi Greg,
    I echo the comments about the beauty and flow of your prose. I wish that your complete recovery (in both mind and body) from cancer can be as smooth. I’ve had my own troubles with cancer, but I’m deeply sorry not to have been there for you.

    • Hello Jim, We must move forward. The past can never be recovered, but we can try to be there for others in the future. Take care of your health.

  • Wonderful visuals and perfect advice for anyone who needs to step out of the here and now for a few moments when things get overwhelming. My need at the moment is far less grave than what you have gone through; I have to get extensive work done on my teeth, and I have been putting it off for a very long time. You have reminded me that I can close my eyes when I’m in that chair, and visit my favourite place (a particular sandy beach in Hawaii.) Thank you for the push, and for sharing your journey with us.

  • Hi Greg. My wife forwarded your post to me, as she saw it on FB. I know there are no silver linings in cancer, but the depth of feeling you achieved in your article is pretty amazing. Great work. I’m sorry to hear about your tough time, though. It sounds like things are looking up for you, which is great, obviously.I hope your future diagnoses continue on that track. (On an unrelated aside, the guy who commented above me mentioned Grants Pass, OR. My sister lives in that town. I’d never heard of it before she moved there.) Cheers, and Hi to your wife. Gambatte. – Kevin

    • Thank you, Kevin, for your kind comments. Actually, for some people, there are a few positive points to cancer. I became more sympathetic to the sorrows of other people and animals. One of my other hobbies before becoming ill was spearfishing while snorkeling. I no longer do that because I cannot take pleasure in the death of other creatures. I also try to be kinder and more thoughtful. Of course, I am still a selfish person with many foibles. At times, I appreciate the wonders of the world more than I did before the discovery of cancer.

      • Hi again. I just thought I should clarify that I am the Kevin you know from Nagoya (Trident), but now living in Kanagawa. Cheers.

    • Hello Bernard, Thank you for your comments and for sharing my blog as well. I do find hot springs to be a healing experience. And I am lucky to live in Japan, where the snow is plentiful and hot springs are easy to find.

  • Greg, I am a writer and a 3-time ovarian cancer survivor. Not only is your writing beautiful, but your message is extremely strong. My family seems to be living an avalanche of cancer, 4 generations now. I lost a sister to the same head/neck cancer you had. I share your belief that nature is a healer. While I had o give up some of my sports I still have what I have, not to mention my life. Thank you for a profound message.

    • Dear Sherry, I appreciate your positive evaluation of my writing. Writing is difficult, as you know, but struggling with a serious illness is even harder for many. You have my best wishes, and I hope that the next generations of your family will have less illness. Take good care of yourself and express your love to your family as often as you can.

  • Thank you for sharing the power of nature and visualization to the healing process. So glad your journey was a success and you beat the odds.

  • Greg, you write beautifully, indeed. Currently, I mope around my home in Michigan due to the early, lousy winter weather that is upon us! Barely any sunlight shines through the grey, dark clouds above. It is quite depressing, but reading your story has changed my poor attitude!
    I have my health and part of yours has been taken away, but you carry on, you press on, you adapt and overcome! You give me hope and motivation to look at my current circumstance, winter blues, with a different perspective!
    Thank you, friend, for helping me in my time of need. I will keep you in my prayers, Greg. I believe you will pull through your unfortunate circumstance. Both my childhood friend, Tony, and my neighbor Andy are survivors of cancer. They have beat their odds, even though the odds were against them.
    I believe all the prayers and support from family, friends and others in their lives gave them a new lease on life. Everything good is possible with God, indeed.
    There is an individual in GrantsPass Oregon that deals with all diseases. His name is Roy Masters. He has been gifted with healing others; not matter what disease they have. I was able to overcome my personal problem through Roy Masters, which saved my marriage and my life. It is personal and I wish not to mention it on this reply.
    Look him up Greg. I know that Roy Masters Foundation for Human Understanding will help you concerning your circumstance and may God richly bless you and your family.


    • Dear Frado, One of the reasons that I write is to touch the hearts and minds of others through my words. Your comments gave me a great sense of reward. I am extremely grateful for your deeply personal response. I wish you, your family, and your friends the best. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.

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