Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month? Hmmmm….

September 22, 2011 at 10:43 PM (Awareness, Faith, Family, friends, Help, Karma, Real Life, Research, WTF, Zen) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. October, AKA “PinkTober”, is the month we think of Breast Cancer. And, apparently November is Lung Cancer awareness month. December? Not sure, but I’m sure there’s a cancer for that month, too. Don’t you think it’s a little ironic we try to remember different cancers on different months throughout the year?

I do.

On a Thursday in May 2006, Sarah was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. She was blown away. SHOCKED! Maybe if we’d paid more attention to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month she might have checked earlier? Who knows. She used to say that sometimes she was a “stick-your-head-in-the-sand-when-something-bad-comes-up” kind of girl.

So, this September, I want to point out that any cancer can crop up at any time. It’s scary and an unfortunate reality we live with. During the five years Sarah fought her cancer, two other very dear friends died from their cancers – a melanoma and a rare sarcoma.

As Sarah became closer to a much larger community of men and women who were fighting all kinds of cancers, we lost even more new friends. BUT, we also gained many new fiends and most are survivors today. I’m counting our collective blessings for that.

The ovarian cancer thing really gnaws at me. Mostly because there’s stuff people should know and can do about it. The first thing you should ask is “what are the symptoms.” Because knowing them and paying attention to your body can save your life. Did you know that ovarian cancer goes undetected far too long, too often? It can be one of the most deadly cancers for women. Not because it’s not treatable, but because once it gets to stage 3 or 4 it’s much harder to treat and often returns over and over and over. The earlier it’s detected, the better the chances for long-term survival!

Okay, okay. I hear ya! Here are the symptoms:
– Bloating
– Pelvic or abdominal pain
– Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
– Urinary symptoms, such as urgent or frequent feelings of needing to go
– Feeling tired more than usual (not usually listed, but this was big for Sarah)

Early stage ovarian cancer CAN be detected via these symptoms. No doctor in their right mind is going to think you’re crazy for asking, especially if you say you’ve been having more than one of these symptoms.

This summer, after Sarah died, I heard many stories of woman getting checked because of Sarah’s story. Unfortunately, at least one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The good news? They caught it early! And she’s being treated. If she hadn’t been checked she could still be wondering, and getting worse.

I’ve also heard stories of women who got checked and were given a clean bill of health. Taking the worry off their shoulders when they were feeling a little uneasy. Music to my ears (and I’m sure to theirs).

Earlier this spring, I went to my dentist and he saw a spot on my tongue. They said I needed a biopsy to be sure it was nothing dangerous. Whoa! This is my tongue we’re talking about. Kind of important! Yes, it freaked me out a little, but I knew I had to do it.

The surgery was a little painful, because they had to cut a small chunk out of my tongue. (During the painful stuff, I thought of Sarah for strength.) The spot turned out to be nothing, THANK GOD! And, the hole in my tongue healed up very quickly. There isn’t even a scar. Weird. But, best of all, I’m healthy, and not worried.

When you talk with your doctor, make sure you go armed with lots of questions. Ask whatever you want and don’t let them go until YOU are satisfied that YOU got what YOU need to know. Asking pointed questions about this stuff can save your life. If you don’t feel like you’re getting a satisfactory answer from your doctor – or they blow you off (yes, I have heard of this happening all too often) – then go see another doctor. I know! It’s a pain in the butt and takes extra time out of your busy day, but what are a few hours when you could be adding years to your life?

I’m sure Sarah would agree with me. She wished she’d gone to the doctor long before she actually did. She had reasons why she had held off. Things like just not wanting to deal with it. Or saying to herself “well, I’m young, I’m healthy, it couldn’t be anything bad.” And of course she was exhausted and didn’t really want to go see a doctor. I probably could have pushed harder, too. But, hindsight is 20/20.

On a Tuesday in May 2011, Sarah died. It was 5 years after she was diagnosed.

Now, in May or September, or any other month for that matter, make sure you remember the signs for ovarian cancer. Whether it’s you or a loved one, if there’s concern, go get it checked out. Better safe than sorry.

To close today, I would like to share a quick story from a friend, Dawna Leger Phillips, who recently said her own good-bye to Sarah while on a Buddhist retreat. Here are some of her words and a photo:

“The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is located on the 600 acres of Shambhala. It is said, “anyone who approaches a Stupa with a pure heart and the intention to benefit others will receive its blessings.” On my last day at Shambhala, I walked to the Stupa and made a final offering. As I placed the Ovations for a Cure bracelet, which I had been wearing more times than not since Sarah’s death, on someone else’s offering of C3PO*, I spoke these words, “Sarah Sadtler Feather, wherever you are, may you rest in peace, may your heart be open and your body strong” and then I let her go, I let her be… It was not an attempt to forget about her but, instead, to detach myself from this part of my past and to simply let her be on her way and to let myself be more mindful of every present moment. This was one of the gifts given to me at Shambhala. I am learning to let go; to trust; to be gentler with myself and with others; to become more peaceful, tolerant and compassionate; and to be more present in the tiniest of moments that make up my big life… I’m still learning…”

Photo by Dawna Leger Phillips

*For those of you who knew Sarah, you will fondly recall her sense of humor and her love of fashion. You might also recall her boys’ love of Star Wars and her naming her home oxygen tank R2D2. I thought Sarah would find humor in the placement of my offering as a sash across C3PO. It is as if he’s saying, “Thank you! So long! May the force be with you!” 🙂

Thank you Dawna!  I agree.  May the force be with us all!

Much love,

Mr. Wonderful

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Today Has Been Brought to you by the Letter ‘I’

April 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM (after chemo, Energy, Family, Help) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

‘I’ for “insane”. “Incredible.” “Inconceivable.” “Ican’tbelievethisishappening.”

Last Monday was completely off-the-charts crazy. Let me tell you all about it.

No, wait, it’s way too much. Lemme give you the highlights:

  • Awoke at 5:15AM to make 7:00 phlebotomy appointment (say that ten times fast) at The Cancer Factory.
  • Finally allowed myself to be wheeled around TCF in a chair, since I had trouble catching my breath after walking up three steps and across a lobby on Saturday night, even with 3 L/min of O2
  • Didn’t think to attach nose hose to air tank on wheelchair; stayed connected (for 3+-hour tour) to portable liquid canister that I’d been breathing on since 6:15am. Usually I hook onto a wall nozzle for most of my visit. [NOTE: this is foreshadowing.]
  • Navelbine not living up to expectations; i.e., breathing continues to worsen. Please go to radiology for immediate CT scan.
  • “Immediate” is a relative term; arrive promptly, but sit-and-wait for two hours. Scan, then return to NP’s office for further instructions.
  • A mere 45 minutes later(!), NP finds me to say that scan shows further, millimeters-larger growth of tumors in all areas. No point in continuing Navelbine infusions as they are clearly not working. Please make appointment for Thursday to come back and talk with oncologist about other potential treatments, their side effects and efficacy rates.
  • Wheel downstairs, return to parking garage, check out. Turn onto Brookline Avenue to realize my port is still accessed.
  • Around block, park at old building drive-up entrance, persuade door guard that Mom can live-park there for five minutes while I dash down to Radiology to have my port de-accessed (remove needle from chest port, left there for cancelled infusion).
  • Find available phlebotomist, convince her I don’t need access anymore today, have needle removed. Start to climb (slowly, slowly) spiral staircase from basement to street level. Get winded, stop to rest multiple times. Reach lobby, resting elbows on knees to catch breath in chair; approached by stranger who asks if I’m okay. Tell him I’m just headed to car, and stagger out front door just to realize that my portable tank, on which I’ve been breathing for over 4 hours, is completely empty.
  • Collapse in front seat as panic sets in; huffingly tell SuperMom to return to valet in other building and find wheelchair with O2 tank so I can breathe while we go back to clinic to have portable tank refilled for drive home. Total panic; feel tingly all over, nauseated.
  • Ticket-gate attendant finishing long chat-up with driver in front of us (as I continue feeling more nauseated and frantic) finally gives us our turn; SuperMom, holding it together nicely while explaining what we need, gets ticket, whips around to valet and tells him to get a chair with a tank NOW (see “Shirley MacLaine, Oscar-winning speech”), while finding me a plastic bag into which I yak my blueberry yogurt (fuchsia pink; poor dude with rescue chair must have thought I was exploding or something) twice. Finally chair dude hooks hose to tank and I’m back on three liters. Mom hands off the keys and we go back up to 10th floor. Emergency passes, and I’m pleased to notice that I’ve not only managed to keep fuchsia barf off floor and out of hair but also off pristine white tee-shirt. ::Rockstar.::
  • On 10th floor, Receptionist pages Respiratory Therapy to come help; Super-tech David gets me hooked up with a higher-caliber portable liquid tank and a complimentary refill that will get me home safely.
  • FINALLY leave hospital around 1:30 and get my post-hospital-visit chocolate milkshake by 2:10. Nap by 2:30, feeling like I’ve been run over, backed-up-on, then re-run-over by a sizeable piece of construction equipment. .
And that’s only the half of it. More to come this week. Don’t you wish you were me?

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A Hundred Gs, Part III

January 26, 2011 at 3:52 PM (Energy, Family, friends, Help, kids, mommy guilt, Real Life) (, , , , , , , , , )

(A Hundred Gs, Part II; A Hundred Gs, Part I)

Last week when I met with my therapist, I landed on a theme that keeps coming up for me:

GUILT.

I feel guilty that I’m putting my family and friends through the stress of having to deal with my illness. I feel guilty when my mom drops everything and comes to town to run my life for a few days when I’m having tough treatments or procedures. I feel guilty asking people to stop at the store for me because I know how busy everyone is already, without having to do my stuff, too. I feel guilty when my husband gets home from a busy day at work and then cleans up the kitchen and does two loads of laundry while writing business emails and presentations and I sit on the couch watching Hoarders. (Those people are nuts — look how normal my life is by comparison!)

I know, I know. It’s ridiculous. There’s nothing I did to bring on this disease or its side-effects; guilt is useless. My life “is what it is”, and everyone does what they need to do to live with it and help us all get through it. No one feels that I’m taking advantage of them, or being lazy so I can lie around with the cat and nap all day. Why am I so wrapped up in the guilt?

I’ll break it down a little: I feel guilty because I feel like I’m not pulling my weight. I feel guilty that my disease is making other people make changes in their lives that, if I weren’t sick, they wouldn’t have to make. I feel guilty when, for example, they shower me with Christmas cards and mad money, because “normal” people don’t have that happen to them, and why should I deserve it any more than any other stay-at-home Mom who’s working part-time and keeping a household running? (Which I’m not even really doing much anymore.)

And (here’s the really ugly part) I feel guilty that my husband and kids are going to have to deal with life after me. Not this month, hopefully not for a few more years, but they WILL have to deal with it. And I know they’re resilient, and we’ve laid good groundwork for sharing emotions and feeling strong and loving themselves and coping with bad stuff, but every time I think about “my mom/wife died of cancer” it makes me crazy. Like, life is hard enough to be a kid/tween/teen without that baggage added to your cart. (At least they’ll have something to write about for their college application essays.)

What’s the solution? I know (and hear from others repeatedly) that my guilt is wasted. No one places any of this responsibility on my shoulders. No one thinks I’m being a manipulative slug. And life is like this: just when you think you’ve got everything under control, something goes all catty-wumpus and you have to readjust. Do I just “get over it”? But I’m a mom, guilt is my JOB.

I think it has to go back to my last post: change the guilt to GRATITUDE. Gratitude that I’m still here, despite the odds. Gratitude that I have such a supportive and energetic family. Gratitude that my friends aren’t sick of hearing about Sarah’s Cancer after nearly five years. Gratitude that I still have such a good relationship with my mother that we don’t kill each other after 48 hours (and Mr. W does, too!). Gratitude that we have thoughtful neighbors with snowplows and -blowers. Gratitude that I can still put on every stitch of clothing that I own and take the dog for a walk in the freezing, snowy, beautiful woods. Gratitude that I live in Boston and have access to the most cutting-edge treatments that have been saving my life for months now. (I’m such a proponent of dump-anything-that-is-a-waste-of-energy (i.e., “Why ME????”) that this should be easy.)

Gratitude that anyone out there is still listening!

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A Hundred Gs, Part II

January 21, 2011 at 7:57 PM (Family, friends, Help, Karma, Silver Lining) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We ate so many of these it's scary. And delicious.

A Hundred Gs, Part I.

On Thursday night before Christmas, while Mr. Wonderful and I were just settling down to another exciting read of The Deathly Hallows with the cherubs, the doorbell rang. Seven o’clock? On a weeknight? (Good grief, I hope it’s not carolers – usually four or five glöggs into  their celebration, they force you to stand, freezing, in the doorway and smile inanely while they try to remember the words to “Good King Wenceslas”. Erm, sorry — back to the story.)

Mr. W went to open the door, and up the stairs trooped old friends, neighbors, new friends, their families and kids, totaling about ten merrymakers. After hugs and introductions all around, the Organizer, I’ll call her, and her daughter passed me a big folder full of notes and drawings, plus a beautiful, handmade card with a big wad of cash. “What’s this?” I asked.

“We know you already bought your boots, but a bunch of your readers and supporters got together and took up a collection for you, so you have some mad money to have fun with. Buy clothes, books from your reading list, take your boys out for dinner, whatever you want. Just enjoy it,” Ms. O said.

It was a big pile of money, and I was really floored. See, I’m not used to being the center of attention, and I felt very humbled by everyone’s generosity. More hugs all around, and wishes for Happy Holidays, and they were off. I felt very warm and fuzzy as we went to find out what the Dark Lord was up to that night.

It wasn’t until the next morning, during a lull in the packing for our weekend trip to Norman-Rockwell-gorgeous Vermont, that I had time to sit down and really examine the folder full of notes. Not only was there the beautiful card and generous gift from those who gave cash, but there were at least ten more notes, checks, and gift cards from other blog-readers and assorted supporters from all over my life: neighbors, friends-of-friends, college friends I haven’t seen in twenty years, Mr. W’s co-worker friends. I was rendered completely speechless. (And you can imagine how difficult that is.)

My initial reaction was, “I don’t deserve this. I’m going to donate it to Ovations.” Mr. W talked me out of it: he said, “These are people who gave to YOU to help you feel better while you’re feeling horrible. They want you to spend it for yourself, to make you happy. Use it, enjoy it. You deserve it.” I felt guilty, I felt greedy, but I could feel the love in all the notes, heartfelt kids’ drawings, and expressions of uplifting support, so I stopped.

And switched it to gratitude. I know that people who love us, people who read my blog, wish there were something they could do to help me get through this disease. So when the opportunity arises to bring casseroles, Christmas cookies, or donations to the Carcinista Couture Collection, they jump. They help. They get gifts from giving, too. That’s what the whole Christmas-present thing is all about.

Gratitude. I’m full.

With heartfelt thanks to Ms. O and her co-conspirators, The Instigator (BKJ), TLP, TEA, SHB, SM, SMH, KFS, JQP, JBB, H&GP, JPW, JWF, HM, K&RS, DS, and anyone else, in my chemo-brained stupor, I might have missed. You have no idea.

Photo credit here.

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Requested Reading List

December 7, 2010 at 10:05 AM (Help, Real Life) (, , , , )

I’m afraid I’m going to fail to fulfill a promise I made a few years ago. When my second son was born, one day the cat came to me and said (I’m paraphrasing), “Why do you keep bringing these men into the house? When will we ever have the chance to be alone together in the sunshine with all these boys around, and their hammering, running, zooming, and eating?” I told her, “Elly, one day you and I will have a girl room, with a chintz-covered chaise longue, late-afternoon sunshine, a mohair-y throw blanket, a pot of tea, and a stack of great books. We’ll spend weekends in there, dozing and reading. I promise.”

Well, the Girl Room hasn’t materialized yet, and unless they’re planning a big Christmas surprise for me, it probably won’t happen. But I can still lie around with a stack of books like it’s my job, and for this Cinderelly is truly grateful.

What I’m having trouble with is: what should I read? When I hit the bookstore, I look for interesting covers or for books I’ve heard mentioned by other people. Sometimes I hit; sometimes I miss. Whenever I go to the library, I wander around aimlessly, looking at covers and pulling out books I haven’t read by authors I already know. But I’m sure there are people (other than librarians and critics) who know exactly what is good, or a classic must-read, or not-just-chick-lit-but-good-chick-lit. Are they you?

If you had a year and wanted to make sure you read all the important stuff, including classics and contemporary literature (although maybe not so much poetry; sorry, Amy), what would you read? Tell me, tell me — there’s still time to put together an Amazon list…

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Random Realizations

November 9, 2010 at 1:09 PM (Funny, Help, Real Life) (, , , , , , , , , )

With the exception of catching a cold, it’s been a fantastic week. Fun things to do, plenty of excitement and opportunities to wear high heels. And along with my trend of expanding wisdom with increasing age, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve discovered over the past seven days. Maybe some of them will be helpful.

  1. Birthdays are awesome, especially when your kids make you cards.
  2. With chocolate inside.
  3. It is possible to survive a week without diet Coke.
  4. When staying in a chic hotel with exciting on-site nightlife, you have to expect drunken hotel guests.
  5. Who are incapable of moderating their voices in quiet hallways.
  6. At 1:25, 1:54, 2:17 and 3:20 am.
  7. While lying awake silently cursing rude hotel guests, it is possible to forget all semblance of manners or empathy or respect for human life.
  8. Children get tired-and-cranky exponentially faster when playing at other children’s houses.
  9. A good playdate can last for eighteen hours, but requires devoted host parents. (XOXO)
  10. The best possible time to run into people from your past, say, college, is when you are decked to the nines in an expensive dress, killer shoes, hip jewels, and freshly-straightened hair and out for a date with your cutie-patootie hubs at The Four Seasons.
  11. No matter where you order it, shellfish-over-pasta is just shellfish-over-pasta. Lesson learned.
  12. However, it is possible to do some very exciting things the next morning with french toast.
  13. It is possible to still have things to talk with one’s husband about for nearly a whole day, even after seventeen years.
  14. Chic young things at swanky, hip bars in boutique hotels spend too much time on their cell phones texting people who are elsewhere and not enough time enjoying their surroundings.
  15. Although they seem to enjoy their fifteen-dollar vodka-and-tonics plenty.
  16. Thirty-nine and cancer-ridden means that four cocktails over the course of an evening, even with food, will result in a hangover.
  17. Irrespective of the quantity of water consumed during the same evening.
  18. Hangovers are quickly dispatched while lying in a pouffy hotel bed watching TV and eating salt-water taffy for breakfast.
  19. Coughing at night is more annoying than drunken hotel guests outside your room.
  20. Divorce can be avoided by sending the coughing party (me) to sleep in the guest room.
  21. All drivers who are not me are complete and utter morons.
  22. Especially when I’m running late.

I hope I have enlightened you with some of my new old-woman wisdom. I’m home from chemo and off for my daily kip. If you need me, I’ll be in my office.

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October is Cancer Awareness Month – Pass it On!

October 17, 2010 at 8:17 PM (Awareness, Help, Karma, Research) (, , , , , , , )

Awesome Ann from “Breast Cancer? But Doctor…I hate pink!” has a new campaign – check out her amazingly generous idea, and spread the word…

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have teal and pink ribbons twined together next October? Or rainbows? The internet is a powerful place.

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Storming The Castle

October 7, 2010 at 10:30 PM (Energy, Family, friends, Help) (, , , , , , , , )

Despite my facade of bravado the night before, I woke on Thursday nervous as hell. Picture it: a woman who, regardless of recent fitness, has a lifetime history of athletic underachievement, a recent history of daily two-hour midday naps, and a bad case of altitude sickness (not to mention stage IV lung mets) spending six hours climbing a big rock and then rappelling down it again. Teamwork and awesome support notwithstanding, the potential for failure was pretty high. But then again, that’s what First Descents is all about, right? Pushing past your fears, self-imposed mental and physical limits, and getting on top of the rock.

Everyone was pretty jacked up by the time we left the lodge. The plan was to revisit the big thumb we had climbed on Tuesday, just outside of Estes Park, but when we stopped by Mary’s Lake to throw in rocks covered with our inhibitions and self-criticisms, the horizontal rain and strong winds threw a wrench in that plan. Flexibility and going-with-the-flow might be the secondary mottoes of FD staffers and CMS guides: within minutes, a new plan was formed, and we took off for the Boulder area and Castle Rock. The hour-plus drive was beautiful, and gave me a chance not only to admire more of the amazing mountain scenery but to psych myself up for the challenge that was looming over my head like a cliff. I had gotten over the whole being-carried-up-the-approach thing; now I had to trust myself, which seemed significantly harder.

Down a winding valley road just outside of Nederland, Castle Rock appeared around a corner and everyone gaped. Three hundred feet of lumpy granite rising into the air like a tower; a creek runs around one side and the road around another. It looked as if it had been set down inside a bowl, with the hills curving around it – maybe that would cut down on the wind? Whatever, it was tall, and we had to climb up it.

The campers split into two groups: the more expert climbers (Alabama, Psych, Foodie, Sprouts, DoBo, Fluff) and the less expert climbers (Spike, Clover, Milf, Caribou, Wiki, Kale, and me). Guides were everywhere, looking very businesslike, draped with hundreds of feet of rope and dozens of carabiners, talking intensely in hushed groups and planning like generals. We scattered into the bushes for last-minute bathroom breaks, and I noticed dusty chalk prints in the cracks up the steepest southern face of the Rock. Clearly, it was a top-notch climbing spot; I just hoped we’d have slightly larger handholds.

And in came the Sherpa. Nicknamed Luddite, I had gone all jittery-schoolgirl when he’d introduced himself at breakfast: 6′ 3″, strawberry blonde, broad shoulders. Now, with a coil of rope split over each of his shoulders, he was positively psyched about practicing carrying me up the approach – whether his insistence that I was doing him a favor was just blowing sunshine or actual fact I’ll never know, but who the hell cares. Check out the photos:

It was rough, I tell you, rough. His shoulders were so broad it was hard to get my arms around them. Grinning like an idiot the whole ride. You see I needed the team tiara to really polish off the effect.

Away we went, leading the north-side group like the Pied Piper. Low branches were a bit of a hazard, but fortunately the approach only took about five minutes, as opposed to the twenty-five minutes of the other rock we had planned to climb. I didn’t have long to feel guilty.

By the time we got started actually climbing, it was nearly noon. Good news: lunchtime! Warm sunshine! Bad news: naptime was approaching like a dive-bomber. Sometimes I got frustrated at the hurry-up-and-wait nature of it, each of us climbing in pairs up the pitches, but the rest time while we waited for the team to reassemble gave us time to rest and eat and drink. The guides were amazing – the spaghetti pile of two-hundred-foot ropes, carabiners, and climbers they had to belay and keep track of was staggering. There wasn’t much conversation with them, although they did pause for an occasional smile and a contribution to the ongoing “If…” book discussion. Special shout-out to Spare Parts, who worked the belay like a machine all day long.

 

That’s Li’l Bits – and 40 lbs. of gear.

Each pitch in itself wasn’t that hard for me. The irony of the whole day is that I actually found myself liking climbing. It’s like putting together a puzzle: a hold for the left hand here, a step for the right foot there, and hoist! Now a right handhold, a left foothold…no? Can I brace with my thigh? Very rewarding and satisfying to the female tetris-loving brain, like watching a needlepoint project or a jigsaw puzzle turn into a whole image from the teensy mosaic pieces. There were moments where I got frustrated because there wasn’t an easy solution, but the cheering from the teammates and occasional coaching from the guides helped my confidence enough that the pieces fell into place, and I found myself flopping over the top ledge like an exhausted swimmer out of the pool.

 

Second-to-the-top pitch. Sherpas don't get cold ankles, apparently.

After about stage three, though, I was done. No, really. My legs were like Jell-O, my arms too tired to lift over my head. I had eaten good complex carbs and drunk plenty of Gatorade, but the burst of renewed energy was not coming. I think my body doesn’t do that anymore. But no sherpa was going to haul me up the rock. And there was no bathroom at the summit. So this is where I usually fall flat – I’m really tired, it’s time for a nap, I can’t do any more today, I’ll be in my office. Take me home, put me to bed, see you later. This day, from somewhere, I had to find the energy to keep climbing.

I just didn’t think about it, any of it. Not about how tired I was, not about how crappy my lungs felt, not about how tired I was of being cold and clinging to a rock. Not about how far my life had come from what I’d imagined it would be, nor how pissed I was at that. I just climbed. Waited ’til it was my turn, and climbed. And then I was up.

Once we were all there, it was strange – we were all jubilant, incredulous at the magnitude of our accomplishment, but exhausted. No one seemed to want to leave, whether we were all too tired to move or just didn’t want it to end. Photos were taken, jokes were told, and then it was time to go.

Rappelling was less terrifying to me than belaying; I guess I’m a control freak, because once I was the one holding the reins (so to speak) letting me down the cliff everything was fine. It doesn’t make stepping backwards off a perfectly good 250-foot cliff any easier, though, even when I’m well rested. Which I was not. And yet, I think the exhaustion quieted the jitters: by the time my jelly-legs had gotten me to the brink, and Spare Parts had hooked my harness to the ropes, I was simply so eager to be finished that I cooked over the edge and started bouncing my way to the ground.

After what felt like ten minutes, but was probably only about two, I stopped for a rest. And looked around me. The sun was setting, the shadow climbing the wall of the bowl around me. The sky was blue. No one was asking me for anything. I had gotten up and over that big friggin’ rock under (mostly) my own power, despite my misgivings. Holy crap. Then I made a mistake – I looked down. People are very tiny from that far up, as are minivans with reclining front seats. Time to get cracking.

Shoulders get sore passing handfuls of rope to yourself over and over again. Switching hands wasn’t an option, though, so I rested a couple of times. I was really cognizant of being the third one down, though, and that there were about twenty people up top who needed to follow me down. Past the hundred-foot pine tree, over the ledge, run out of footholds and swing precariously, and then hands on my waist helping me down. Done. I could barely unhook my climbing harness and stagger to the van. Seat down, feet up, pass out.

And not be able to fall asleep. As I lay there staring at the bushes outside the window, so many things ran through my head. First was, “Why the hell did I do this? I can’t believe I signed up for this nightmare. I’m so tired I’m going to die.” Next came the cascade of memories from the day: rooting for reluctant climbers; Slash’s ridiculous sing-alongs; the sunshine on all of us at the top. As I heard subsequent rappellers finishing their descents and cheering for each other in a mob, I was overcome with jealousy: at their energy levels; at their ability to stand up after that day; at the fact that some of them were over their disease; at the fact that I wanted to plan to do First Descents again and might not get the chance to. Tears of exhaustion. Frustration. Nap.

Spare Parts opened the tailgate some time later to start loading in equipment, and threw on some tunes for the assembled cheering squad – the clock said 6:45. No wonder I was zonked. It took another forty-five minutes before everyone was down and loaded. I was so excited to be driving home I could hardly stand it. Nap. Forget dinner – to bed, to bed. My pre-noon flight the next morning would probably require an early wake-up call, so I was eager as hell to check out.

Ha ha. It seems that other members of our team were HUNGRY. We stopped in Nederland at a Nepalese restaurant called Kathmandu for dinner. I was nearly in tears again at the thought of having to get up and walk into the restaurant and make conversation for an hour. Oh, and it’s buffet. Now I have to balance a plate, stand up and make conversation. Then it came to me, like a message from heaven: I. can. order. a. diet. Coke.

Caffeine, food, and chai actually dragged me out of my funk, and I completed a couple of sentences at the table. But by 8:30 I was practically herding people out the door to the vans. Slash said that once we got back to the lodge, we still had a Campfire meeting to get through, plus the awesome slideshow from the week. Bedtime? Maybe midnight.

I did finally fall asleep in the van, but it took everything I had left to pry my bod out of bed, wrap myself in a sleeping bag and shuffle outside for the Campfire. I won’t share everyone’s secrets, but it was clear ground had been broken, lifetime friendships made, personal limitations smashed.

For me, my contribution to Campfire was that the day’s heroic achievements had been so huge there was no way I could summarize them without some sleep. I said that when I woke up on Tuesday, I’d probably blow my own mind at how huge the day had been. I was seriously so drained, and the magnitude of our journey so epic, that to this day I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

What I know for sure is that the next morning, when I had to say goodbye, it was like cutting off my arm. First Descents felt like an entire year of college, with its friendships, shared in-jokes, and constant togetherness, crammed into five days. I was so tired I thought I wouldn’t make it through security (thank heaven for first class lines!), staggered to a kiosk for a fatty bagel-egg-bacon-cheese, collapsed at the gate and burst into tears. How does one come down from a high like FD and return to the real world? The regular real world would have been hard enough, but I had to psych myself up for chemo in two days. I needed some motivation.

Memories.

Day 1: What have we signed up for?

Day 2: Post-climb chillin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sprouts, Spike, and Shotgun revel in the view from the top.

Day 3 mountain hike, and sweet Clover.

First Descents #53 Colorado Climbing camp, victorious.

I’ll be back.

Photos courtesy Kale, Clover, Spike, DoBo, Wiki, Wildflower, and Garçon. I forgot to take any.

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Looking For Footholds

October 1, 2010 at 8:12 PM (after chemo, Energy, Faith, friends, Help)

Wednesday was supposed to be easy. The First Descents camp directors had scheduled a “day off” the rocks, to give us time to recuperate from Tuesday’s fun, and to give us all a chance to hang out and have some fun (more fun, that is). I’m not sure what “easy” schedule they were working from, but the “day off” started with an (optional) drive to the top of Rocky Mountain National Park to watch the sun rise (freezing; early; stayed in bed). Next was a late breakfast after an 8:30 yoga class.

Yoga – I’ve got this one. While not a tri-weekly practicer, I’ve been known to rock a reverse triangle pose or two. I was excited to 1) stretch out my really tight hamstrings; and 2) prove I wasn’t a total slug decimated by treatments and high altitude. How the mighty have fallen: by the second sun salutation I was gasping in child’s pose on the mat. The (very inspirationally fit) instructor’s breathing directions (“Slow breath in as you rise; exhale and touch the mat in forward fold,”) mocked me, as it took three inhalations and exhalations to complete each bend.

By the end of the practice, I was in corpse pose on the mat, blinking back tears of frustration at my inability to do ANYTHING. How the hell was I going to make a multi-pitch climb up an enormous rock the next day, when I couldn’t even finish a simple sun salutation?

Fortunately, the cinnamon-bread-hot-apple-compote french toast breakfast helped quiet my concerns for a while. The main planned activity of the day was a drive (whew!) up into the Park to 12,000 feet, with an optional hike or two. Since I seemed to have reserved my seat (“Shotgun!”) for the duration, I had an amazing view as the road got narrower and less paved. It’s amazing how BIG everything is in the West. When we stopped above the treeline so the willing (and waterproof) could hike the last thousand feet to the summit, I had a few quiet moments in the van with CMS guide Li’l Bits. He asked me if I was nervous about the “graduation” climb the next day, and I admitted my suspicions about my endurance. He said, “I want you to take some time with the idea of us carrying you up the approach so you can save your energy for the climb.” (My emphasis.)

Here’s my thing. Having grown up as “the one who doesn’t do much,” I’m a little prideful about my activity level, even as a cancer patient. Voted “Class Couch Potato” in high school and known for saying, “I”ll be here when you come down” on family hikes, the picking’s been ripe with me and not-achieving-athletically. So to have people I’ve only known for three days peg me as the physical underachiever in the group, whatever the reason, stung. A lot. Having one of the staff carry my backpack up the hill, or bring an air mattress for me to take a nap (!) was one thing, but letting them take on hauling my sick carcass up the hill to the rock face? Another thing entirely.

I realized, as I found myself explaining furiously to Li’l Bits how uncomfortable the whole idea made me, that no one in this group considered me a slug. No one thought that I was slacking off the climbing so I’d have more energy to… I don’t know, nap later. The longer I sat with the idea of getting a ride (all the way back down the mountain, through the snow and incredible scenery, past rutting elk and moronic tourists), the more sense it made: this was a rock-climbing camp, and the team of amazing volunteers, staff, and guides were doing their jobs by making sure everyone in the group succeeded at getting up that hill. By letting go of my pride, I was offering success not only to myself but to the whole team. (After all, “Life is full of setbacks…“)

After a solid hour-long nap, I was ready for the team outing to the nearby microbrewery (not to mention a diet Coke and some fries. The vegan organic food was DELICIOUS, but after a while a girl just needs some aspartame and some sat fats). In the ensuing three hours (during which I sipped a third of a beer and guzzled water, thank-you-very-much), I laughed harder and more frequently than I have in at least ten years. There were pranks delivered, great jokes told, toasts drunk, patrons scandalized. And we were all home in time for (another outstanding) dinner. By which point I had thoroughly settled into my role as sedan-chair princess: I was even protesting loudly (tongue-in-cheek) that I refused to climb any simple path on the grounds that the First Descents camp was billed as a rock-climbing camp and that hiking was not in my contract – if they wanted me on the rock, they’d have to get me there themselves. During the three days of the camp, I had reached the magic tipping point (or whatever) of First Descents: these people, whom you may only have known for seventy-two hours, care not one iota what you do for a living, what body parts you are missing, how close you are to dying. What they want is for everyone to KICK ASS at the rock-climbing and for the whole team to be up there, together, at the end of the day, cheering on your teammates and reveling in your success.

My battle had become, not pushing myself past the definition society had put me into of “cancer patient”, but holding myself back from doing all the things I wanted to and had hoped to when I signed up, because the destination was more important than the journey.

Photo courtesy Wiki

Next: The Longest Day

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Family Friend Supports Cancer Research; Please Help!

July 24, 2010 at 7:40 PM (Family, friends, Help, Research, Treatment) (, , , , , , , )

Dorcas Ann Casey, on the right, with her mom.

Hi All:

I have a favor to ask. A good friend of mine, Dan Pike, is competing in the Ironman Lake Placid this weekend (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run!) in memory of his cousin Dorcas Ann Casey, who lost her battle with synovial sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, in 2008. Dan is raising $25,000 to support the Dorcas Ann Casey Fund that will benefit synovial cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Dorcas was the source of much comfort to me during the early stages of my cancer fight; she sent care packages with comfy slippers and yummy candles; she sent books of inspiration and letters of support. She and I had a rollicking time the last time I saw her (with my GI-Jane-short hair) laughing at the random ridiculousness of the whole cancer trip. I was so sorry to hear she’d lost her fight.

If you’d like to join me in supporting my dear friend Dan in his heroic task this weekend, please visit the link below which whill take you to his page on Fred’s Team, Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s site for fundraising.

To donate online:
http://mskcc.convio.net/site/TR?px=1771450&fr_id=1370&pg=personal

To contribute by check, please make checks payable to MSKCC, noting “Pike Ironman/Fred’s Team” in the memo line, and mail to:
MSKCC
Attn: Elise Cook, Annual Giving Officer
633 Third Avenue, 28th Floor
New York, NY 10017

Thank you all for your help – let’s keep fighting to get to a place where cancer is just a distant memory. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you know who will help!

Photo courtesy Dan Pike.

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