Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Tower

The Columbia Tower in Seattle (picture taken on Thanksgiving day 2007)

To learn facts about the tower and see more photos, click the lighthouse icon in the post title.

In exactly 30 days my sister and I will climb our way to the top of this building in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Big Climb event. It is the tallest skyscraper in the city and on the west coast.

Our team name is "High on Life" as we get a thrill out of such activities which get the adrenaline pumping and for me there can be no greater high than still being alive 15 years after a cancer diagnosis and a recent brain surgery. Now how many people expect to encounter those challenges in their lifetime?

The money we raise is used for patient and family support programs (which were absent back in the 80s when Sean Swarner went through cancer- the famous mountaineer who summited Everest and the 7 summits of the world), education on blood cancers, and research to find better treatments and cures for the cancers leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.

Out of 3 family members stricken with blood cancer I am the sole survivor. Shortly after my battle with cancer in 1993, a distant cousin passed away after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant here in Seattle to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Then in October 2005 my grandfather who won his battle with cancer in 1992 was diagnosed with a second cancer which caused a large tumor to form on his hip bone slowly and painfully eroding away his hip and love of wandering around the cedar forest on his property in Upper Michigan. This second cancer was known as the blood cancer myeloma.

In March of 2006, after months of chemotherapy, there was a short period where his blood counts looked good and he appeared to have been in remission (if analyzing his blood work). Still in pain, the avid woodsman I knew hobbled his way around with a walker, threw it in the back of his trailer and jumped onto his 3 wheeler for one last ride with my dad and I out by the cranberry bogs. What joy I saw in his face that day and sparkle in his eyes! It was a true "high on life" moment that we grabbed and held on to for as long as we could.

It was not long afterward that the cancer was back at work doing its evil. A hip replacement surgery could not be done to repair the bone which had been worn away because his health status for a surgery was not ideal. When going through cancer and chemotherapy, one's immune system is severely weakened and blood counts at abnormal levels. Therefore, the body just does not have the strength to take on the additional challenge.

We had hoped that the chemotherapy would work in snuffing out the cancer and later he could get a new hip. It pained me greatly to see someone so strong who I have always known to spend all day outside walking briskly through the woods now being confined mostly indoors and who painfully moved short distances with the aid of a walker. In my own experience with NF2, losing my balance has been a similiar sting to the soul. To have once playfully skipped over a river from stone to stone to barely being able to even stand on a rock is an anguish that cuts so deep that the heart burns in bitter sadness.

By August things were not looking too promising. The chemotherapy was no longer doing its job in fighting back. Soon he was introduced to Hospice where he could get care in the comfort of his home in his final days. Without the chemotherapy to give a fighting chance, the cancer quickly ravaged his body leaving him in pain, incoherent, and no longer wanting food. On August 12th God showed compassion and mercy by closing the chapter on his suffering and bringing him home to begin a new adventure throughout eternity.

Our climb is in memory of him and the love of life and the outdoors that he passed on to us.

Our hope is that my friends KC and Skip who are battling incurable forms of the cancer and others like them and my grandpa will someday reach a remission to celebrate and that "high on life" feeling too.

Whatever support you can offer would be greatly appreciated! Tax deductible donations for our team can be made online through my fundraising page or my sister's at:


Thanks! :o)

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