Deloris Donnelly has always had a thing for the great outdoors.
She gets a thrill out of lifting decaying logs so her grandchildren can search for bugs, salamanders, frogs and other small creatures.
“I love nature,” she said.
Loving nature is more than just a hobby — it helped save her life.
In 2000 Donnelly was diagnosed with breast cancer, the debilitating disease that kills an estimated 40,450 women each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Following a life-saving surgery, she searched for a way to cope with her ordeal. With a background in science, the answer came to her quickly. She is the founder of Nurture with Nature, an organization that helps breast cancer survivors by taking them to and exploring various natural areas in Delaware.
“Being out in nature helped me more than anything else,” she said. She decided to see if would work for other survivors.
“I had been through breast cancer,” she said. “I lost my mother to breast cancer, and I when I was fortunate to survive I wanted to share what helped me get through my journey.”
She founded the organization in 2006 while she was living in Milford. She’s in Florida now, but she returned to Milford Sept. 22, where Nurture with Nature members recognized her accomplishments at the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.
“I thought there was a way we could bring women together that would let them have time to talk to each other about the treatments they were going through,” she said. “They could find out that their problems with breast cancer were not unique to themselves.”
Lois Wilkinson, education and survivorship program manager with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, is a longtime friend and helped Donnelly start the program.
Wilkinson, a 14-year survivor, said, “she became my peer mentor, so I had a couple of options surgerywise and I wasn’t sure which way to go and she had one of the options they gave me.”
Donnelly told her what it was like, and they have been friends ever since. Learning about nature became one of their pastimes.
“We started hanging out with survivor friends until we were like ‘let’s makes this a real program,’” Wilkinson said.
With Nurture with Nature, survivors have a chance to gather somewhere other than a meeting room. Wilkinson said, “diagnosis of cancer of any kind is very stressful and nature is very de-stressing.”