Saved by science, cured by nature

What it meant for DUC volunteer and research biologist Patrick Herzog to reconnect with nature after cancer

Herzog says From the Mist: A Life Restored by Nature is about overcoming fear, and rediscovering what you love as a way to renew your life during times of crisis. ©DUC

“This isn’t only a story of surviving cancer,” says Patrick Herzog. “I wouldn’t be telling it if it was just that.”

Herzog has written a book. It’s about the healing role nature played in his recovery from an aggressive type of lymphoma that attacks the body’s immune system.

Herzog says From the Mist: A Life Restored by Nature is about overcoming fear, and rediscovering what you love as a way to renew your life during times of crisis.

Herzog grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, watching football games at Lambeau Field, duck hunting with his father, and exploring the shores and wetlands of Lake Michigan.

An avid outdoorsman, Herzog turned his passion for the wilderness into a career. In college, he studied natural resource management, and bird biology. After completing a master’s degree at the University of Alberta, Herzog went to work at DUC as a research biologist before becoming a wildlife professor at Lethbridge College.

All the while, he continued living an active lifestyle doing outdoor fieldwork.

But everything changed in 1993 when Herzog received the diagnosis. He had chronic leukemia that morphed into lymphoma in 2000.

“All those years of watching and waiting, I was pulling away from nature, afraid to exert myself in the outdoors,” says Herzog.

Thanks to medical treatment, and a bone-marrow transplant from his youngest sister, Herzog’s cancer went into remission. But his life didn’t pick up where he had left off before the diagnosis.

“Dealing with endless fatigue and chemo-induced mental woes was more difficult than going through the treatments. For three or four years, I just couldn’t seem to get my feet under me,” says Herzog. “My future was more uncertain than it had ever been,” he adds.

A pivotal moment in Herzog’s recovery took place at a Calgary art gallery. He saw a painting of a Siberian tiger in a winter setting by renowned wildlife artist Robert Bateman.

“Time vanished. My mind was clear and sharp. For me, that was the first step in reconnecting with nature without actually having to be outdoors,” he says.

The healing process had begun. The young boy who would wake up at the crack of dawn to experience the first rays of a hot summer sun and the calls of local wildlife had returned. Herzog ventured back outside, slowly regaining his confidence. He recalls one particularly influential moment in his recovery, when he spotted an avocet, caught in the glow of a prairie sunset. “It helped me feel alive,” he says.

The moment led him to complete a nine-year study of waterfowl population-habitat trends on an area jointly managed by DUC.

Today, Herzog divides his time between volunteering with DUC’s Oceanside, B.C. chapter, writing, ocean kayaking, and spending as many hours as he can outdoors.

“I think a lot of us are resilient… take a wetland that’s been stricken by drainage or drought. You think it’s a wasteland. But when you add that element that’s been missing, water, you see how alive it becomes.”

From the Mist by Patrick Herzog
©Patrick Herzog

Patrick Herzog’s book From the Mist: A Life Restored by Nature is now published and available for purchase at FriesenPress.com and Amazon.ca. An inspiring read about the role of nature in healing body and soul, there are several pages devoted to waterfowl studies and conservation that “duck buffs will enjoy,” says Herzog. The book includes four paintings of wetland birds by Robert Bateman. All proceeds from the sale of Herzog’s book support the B.C. and Alberta Cancer Foundations.

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