Growing Outside

How Over 50 Outside Has Helped Shawn Drennan Build Confidence Outdoors

 

My name is Shawn Drennan, and I am a proud member of the Over 50 Outside group participating in the 52 Hike Challenge. I currently live in Seattle, WA, and enjoy spending time outdoors, watching live music and visiting my daughter’s family.

 

I grew up as an Air Force brat moving all about the country, which gave me a strong sense that a family unit is an incredibly powerful resource for the fun turns life throws at you. I attended Duke University, where I met my husband, on a Naval ROTC scholarship. Upon graduation, we were both commissioned into the Navy and stationed in Pearl Harbor, HI, where my daughter was born.

I have always been physically active and generally competitive. I played soccer through most of my childhood and became the first female to be on the under-16 All Star team in my town in Michigan. I also competed with the high school swim and track teams. Several years later, when work transferred us to Southern California, I discovered triathlons and road cycling. Being active just feels good, and I really like being strong and capable.

Professionally, I separated from the Navy after only a couple of years due to the “right-sizing” of the force. After I left the service, I earned my MBA from University of Colorado Denver and entered the world of corporate finance. After over 20 years in that field, across several companies and industries, I landed in the biopharma industry. Something about it really spoke to my soul. Working on products that might actually have a life-or-death impact on a person’s life is imply mind boggling.

 

A man and a woman crouching down next to their dog beside a waterfall Shawn hiking in the Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania with her husband, Darrell and their dog, Buddy

 

In the fall of 2017, my husband and I decided to relocate from New Jersey to Seattle to work for a start-up biopharma company that was preparing to launch their first CAR-T immunotherapy product. It was supposed to be a fresh, exciting chapter in our lives—a new company in a new place.

Four months after we settled in, however, my husband suffered a strange episode, during which he started staggering around and seemed very confused. A trip to the ER cleared him of a stroke, but he walked away diagnosed with Glioblastoma (GBM)—the most aggressive form of adult brain cancer. A mere 36 hours later, he underwent surgery and our medical journey began as we put our planned lives on hold.

We had the blessing of several close friends and family members, both physically here in the Seattle area and nationwide, that provided the absolute best support network we could ever have asked for. I cannot imagine how I could have survived this devastating chapter if it weren’t for each and every member of this incredible circle of people.

We tried every treatment option that we could get our hands on. In January of 2020, I temporarily relocated us back to the East Coast so that we could be near our daughter and most of my husband’s family as he entered hospice care. My husband passed away from GBM in March of 2020, just as the pandemic picked up speed.

 

Shawn with her family at Mt. Rainier

 

I found my way back to Seattle via visits with family while I watched the pandemic grow and lockdowns expand. When I eventually returned to Seattle, the isolation was real and dark. I had three groups of friends that really went out of their way to stay safe, keep me safe, and still get us together regularly out of the house. I had my biking buddy, who successfully got me back on my bike and was officially my “bubble just under a second roof”. I had my Olympic Peninsula hiking buddies that really reintroduced me to getting back out there. And I had my Seattle side-hiking buddy who established our regular “Friday Funday” hiking adventures around the Cascades.

It was through this last friend that I connected to the Over 50 Outside challenge. She found the ad, forwarded it to me and we decided to apply together. Who knew there would be over 2600 applicants for 150 slots!? I was accepted into the program, but, alas, she was not. We made a deal that she would still hike most of the hikes with me, and that would be the focus for the year for our Friday Fundays. She is the most frequent hiking buddy in my trip reports, although I have managed to get many other members of my support circle tagged on a hike as well.

 

Shawn with her hiking buddy on the Pacific Coast Trail for Friday Funday!

 

When I first applied to the Over 50 Outside challenge, I was really only looking for a mechanism to keep me accountable for consistency—getting out there even when I didn’t really want to (snow?!?). I have absolutely exceeded that goal, consistently getting out nearly every week, regardless of weather: warm and pretty, cold and windy, rainy, snowy—even as I have travelled to Boston and Maryland.

I never expected to get such an incredible support group through ladies—who I’ve never met and hope to meet soon—along the way. The sponsors and coordinators have put together an incredible program, with monthly virtual meetings that cover topics that you never thought  you needed to know, only to realize how much you needed to know them. There have been so many conversations about safety that I now have confidence when I go hiking that I can avoid a bad situation and recover from a bad situation, should one come up. I have learned what to carry and, for the most part, how to use it when the occasion arises.

I have learned so much about myself through my hikes, beginning with the first one I tackled by myself in the summer of 2020. I was sorting through some stuff in the house and just got overwhelmed. It was a gorgeous summer day, I could see the mountains out the window, and nature was calling me. But, as it was mid-week, all my buddies were working. It would have to be by myself, or don’t go.

It was a huge mental struggle, but I chose to go. I bought a sandwich and challenged myself to have a picnic by a river. I made it to the trailhead but, when I took that first turn on the trail and realized that I could no longer see the car or anyone else at all, I realized just how alone I was. It freaked me out a bit.

I was completely on my own, for better or worse, and I knew I was going to have to rely on me—and only me. It was a short hike, in both time and distance, but I sat by that river and ate that sandwich. I then made a pact with myself that I would become more comfortable on my own so that I could decide to do something solo, and be fine.

A leaf-covered trail surround by trees Trail solace - where Shawn went for her Self Reflection hike at Redmond Watershed Preserve

 

Since then, I have acquired all of the suggested safety items and a lot more experience. I have also changed my connection to nature. I now find nature a little less scary, and a fantastic place to just work out those internal discussions, like the one I worked through this past summer.

Over a year after my husband passed, I struggled to know how I wanted to engage with the rest of my life. I felt I couldn’t go back into standard corporate life—not sure I could handle some of the politics and nuances that just simply exist in that world after experiencing the rawness of what life can really throw at you.

Then, one day, a friend, whose wife has GBM, reach out via email and ask some very tough questions about late-stage symptoms. You know, the “how will I know when?”. It was the hardest thing I had done since saying goodbye to my own husband. I walked away from that email several times before I made myself remember how hard it was to navigate the journey without knowing what was coming or what to expect. I wrote the response he needed, and then found myself retreating to a nearby nature preserve to walk it off. I found that I could not only really get down into the weeds, reflecting on why it was so hard to talk about, but also why I found I could not ignore it. I had knowledge and experience that could really help someone else in their dire time of need.

I think that is also why I did not hesitate when the End Brain Cancer Initiative, one of the Brain Cancer charities that we had connected with during our medical journey, reached out looking for a new member for their Board of Directors—a Treasurer. It was a beautiful match to my skills; a clear way to keep the fight going and to make a difference in a life somewhere, somehow.

A woman wearing a backpack crossing a river on a log in the forest Shawn crossing a river on a hike

 

As I write this, I now see how much I have grown and changed in the nearly two years of living my life on my own. The excuses that used to fill my head about going “out there” used to win, but now I don’t hear them as much. I will not melt in the rain, I will not blow away in the wind, the top of a mountain is serene, a waterfall can be truly spectacular, friends and family are the universe, and I can be strong and at peace simultaneously. Now bring on the wildflowers!

 

Want to support the End Brain Cancer Initiative?

In May (2022) The End Brain Cancer Initiative will celebrate its 20th Anniversary of helping Brain Cancer patients understand all of their treatment options. There are several educational events planned through out the year and you invited to join in supporting their mission. You can register to sign up to receive newsletters and other info here: https://endbraincancer.org/contact/(Opens in a new window)  or you can follow on Twitter (@EndBrainCancer(Opens in a new window)) or on Facebook(Opens in a new window).

Donations are graciously appreciated at https://endbraincancer.org/take-action/donate-now/(Opens in a new window)