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Dear Iris: Chemo’s Keeping Me Indoors

Dear Iris,

I’m an active person. I love to hike, swim at the lake, and work in my garden and yard. But this past summer I spent a lot of my time indoors, receiving chemotherapy and preparing for my upcoming surgery. Not only was this disappointing, but it also left me worried that I’ll miss out on another one of my favorite seasons. Since I’m still in the middle of treatment and managing fatigue, what can I do this fall with my family that helps me feel connected to nature and the outdoors?


Dear C, 

On top of everything else you’re going through, it’s difficult to realize that some of your favorite moments of the season won’t happen the way you want. Whether it’s fatigue, long chemotherapy days, or recovery from surgery, cancer has a reputation for interrupting our hobbies and routines.  

Knowing this fall will look different for you, take some time to reflect on what’s important to you about being outdoors. Is it the challenge of an outdoor activity, the beauty, the feeling you get outside, or a chance to observe and learn? Maybe even all 4?  

Having a better understanding of why you love something offers the opportunity to creatively think of ways to maintain that connection. If you don’t have the energy for a hike or a day trip, here are some other ways you may be able to enjoy the changing seasons. 

1. Investigate Your Surroundings 

Because nature is all around us, it’s easy to take for granted how powerful and complex it is. Consider observing and learning about a part of nature you are less familiar with. That could look like learning about native and invasive plants in your area, identifying birds, and observing the lunar cycle.  

You may also want to keep a nature journal. This could include written observations, lists, recordings, drawings, paintings, or a mix. Even if you don’t consider yourself “creative,” you might be surprised at how much you enjoy the act of expressing what you see. By doing so, you’d also be following in the footsteps of some great naturalists, including John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. 

2. Bring Nature Closer to You  

If you’re used to being active in nature and slow walks at your local park are a new concept, consider ways to enhance your time. You could search for rocks, acorns, or even wildflowers and leaves to press. There are many activities online (such as Pinterest) that use natural materials to create something you can gift or display in your home. 

If getting outside isn’t an option due to fatigue or weather, there are other ways to bring nature inside, including: 

  • Growing herbs on the windowsill (or a hydroponic herb kit in the winter)  

  • Create a shelf or other space where you can appreciate items you collected on your slow walk 

  • Installing a birdbath or bird feeder you can watch from a window 

  • Tending to indoor plants 

  • Trying a telescope for stargazing 

  • Watching documentaries such as Planet Earth 

3. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town 

Part of the thrill of spending time outdoors is discovering new things. To invite adventure into your day, make a local “bucket list” and check off places you’ve always wanted to visit. This could be as simple as sitting outdoors at a local tea or coffee shop or attending a fall market. 

Some of the best exploring can be done from the comfort of your car. Load the family up and head for scenic drives or lookout spots near your home. You could pack a picnic, watch the leaves changing, or view the sunset from a new location. 

If getting out is out of the question today, you can also still pause and take a moment to feel connected to a place that brings you peace. There are plenty of meditations on YouTube and Spotify that can guide you through visualization or meditation and give you the feeling you get when being in your favorite environment. 

As you review this list, consider what drives you to connect with nature. Is it about adventure and learning? Perhaps it is a sense of wonder and a link to something bigger than yourself. Knowing what you value and why you enjoy your outdoor activities so much will help guide you to find ways to stay connected to nature during this time. 

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Jessica Fox, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, APHSW-C

Mental Health Therapist

Iris Oncology

Jessica Fox is an oncology social worker with a decade of experience working with patients and their families. She has earned her Oncology Social Work Certification (OSW-C) and Advanced Palliative and Hospice Social Work Certification (APHSW-C). Jessica has worked for outpatient cancer centers in both Baltimore, MD and Portland, OR.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.