While in the hospital I had double vision and was very weak. The first couple days out of bed I was afraid to use the stairs because I could not see the steps accurately and was terrified I was going to take a bad fall. On the last day there I braved tackling the stairs with Harley, my sister, my mom, and the physical therapists by my side. When I accomplished a few steps and everyone cheered about what a good job I was doing, I half jokingly asked the therapist if I would climb the Columbia tower again.
Then I went home to discover that first weekend that a "save a date" postcard for the Big Climb had come in the mail. This year's climb is on my mother's birthday. Right then and there I determined that this is something I must work toward and do. I thought it would be a nice gift to make a come back and show that I can persevere. It also provided me a motivational incentive to work toward my recovery, and great way to honor the memory of my grandfather who passed from a blood cancer, something to dedicate to my friend Skip struggling with chronic leukemia and an opportunity to help my fellow blood cancer survivors.
The photo you see pictured is of the giant dune at Cape Kiwanda state park in Pacific City, Oregon. I have always been drawn to climb to the top to get the fresh perspective and view it offers. Immediately when I came upon the dune I desired to conquer it.
Fortunately, the soft sand of the dune is safe for me if I fall as I have lost most of my balance function through my battle with Neurofibromatosis. I am limited now (as of 2004) by what I can climb due to the need for safety but seek out opportunities to do what I can such as climbing things like the dune.
This dune was a very important symbol for me. I was unsettled and unsure of how things would go in the upcoming surgery I had 2 weeks later (moved up a whole month due to complications I started having). OK. Let's be honest......I was pretty freaked out of my gourd and had many somber episodes, thoughts, and reflections on my life. In my mind, I felt that if I could conquer this small hill, I could also pull through this brain surgery.
It may look really easy but that I assure you it was not. My dad and I climbed it and the sand was so deep and hillside so steep that we had to scramble on all fours. Half way up the dune my lungs burned and quadriceps ached.
I thought of my friend Yumi who had just accomplished her first summit on a second attempt of Mount Rainier. I recall her telling me how the last thousand feet killed and how fatigued her leg muscles became. I also thought of fellow blood cancer and Hodgkin's Lymphoma survivor Sean Swarner who attempted Mount Denali in Alaska 3 times before completing his trek of the highest summits on each continent to honor those with cancer. After feeling defeated by the mountain on previous tries and with heels rubbed raw, he reached the top of Denali.
I thought of them and what they went through and how they never gave up. So when my legs started to burn and I could see how far it was to the top, I thought my challenge was really miniscule and easier compared to what they went through.
When I reached the top I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. If I could make it to the top of this dune, then I could bear what lay before me with the surgery and make a comeback.
It takes me about 15 minutes of sweating, heart pounding, and muscle aching to reach the top of the tower. In essence though, that is really nothing compared to the weeks, months, and years cancer patients endure through treatment. Reaching the top is an exhilirating experience and so is reaching a remission and each year of remission that passes by. This year I will have made it to my 15th year of remission and plan to paraglide off Tiger Mountain. My contribution in the Big Climb is in the hope that other blood cancer patients get that spark and opportunity at life that I have enjoyed.