Today was a perfect day to luxuriate in bed, my head in the clouds.
I partied too hardy late Friday and into the wee hours of Saturday with dozens and dozens of my favourite people to celebrate at my Goodbye Cancer! party. The live band Juggernaut was on fire and the crowd was appreciative. We danced and danced and danced. My ears were still ringing the next day, possibly because I came home with a new collection of bells.
I am currently not used to being vertical so long, as it is hard on my broken ankle. I spent all of October in bed, horizontal and elevated, and was just told by the orthopedic surgeon that I can begin to put bear some weight on my fractured bone. If I wasn’t heading to the hospital for radiation, I was snuggled up under my sheets and duvet, with my faithful dogs surrounding me … reading, writing and researching. I’ve always been an extrovert, but God said, “You need to sit down for awhile” and allowed me to break my ankle. I had been playing with fire. Quite literally. He was gorgeous and well worth the risk. But too much sex, drink and club dancing are not conducive to recovery from cancer. I got sidelined.
Today, I snuggled up in bed for the duration of this dreary, wet Sunday. There were weather advisories posted for heavy rainfall. Thunder rumbled outside and the cold November rain is still tapping my bedroom window. It’s the kind of day where the drizzle falls in a constant stream and strengthens into thunderstorms that come with flash flood and low-pressure headaches. Crutches and rain don’t mix. I am warm and cozy in my pink fox jammies (and no bra … my radiation burns are chaffing under my arm), had three steaming cups of coffee and a delicious piece of Blueberry Galette for breakfast which I snuck away from the pot luck last night. Surprisingly, I don’t have any bones that ache. Just that achy head that throbs behind your eyes. Gone, thanks to Advil Liqui-Gels, caffeine and puppy cuddles. I don’t do slippers, but I love my soft, comfy socks.
I needed a quiet day to soothe my mind, body & soul. Silence. The thrum and drone of the air conditioner finally gone. The dogs’ nails clicking on the hardwood as they slowly moved from one sleeping spot to another. A distant train chugging by. The lack of traffic noises tells me that everyone else has the same idea. Carly silently begged for some of my breakfast, drooling and imploring with her brown eyes. She gave up and curled up at my feet once it was gone. Annie grunted her usual morning greeting in her soft husky voice. She saves the loud howls and whiny cries for moments when she is excited. Her repertoire of noises and ability to communicate her wants and needs astounds me. A little pink snow nose nuzzles under my hand to trick me into scratching her ears and neck, she closes her eyes and sighs.
Home has been especially low energy and serene today. I was sleepy and it felt delicious to be curl up with my pillow and nap for three hours. I needed it.
Beef, carrots and potatoes went into the Instant Pot with stock, onions, garlic, spices and seasonings. A steaming bowl of homemade stew in 60 minutes from start to finish. My house Dobby, unfortunately, is slacking. I still have to get up and vacuum, but I will leave house-keeping tasks for tomorrow.
Over the weekend, I caught up with several friends who had just recently returned from climbing to Mt. Everest Base Camp, an epic 12-day journey. Their stories fascinated me. We romanticize the impossible, forgetting that life and nature don’t grant easy passage to our greatest challenges. You have to dig in and give everything to get to the finish line. “Life is suffering” is the Buddhist belief. As we listened to Richard’s story, I couldn’t help but draw similarities between surviving cancer and his climb. He said things which I, in my head, said “That’s how I felt with chemo!”. The only difference is that he somewhat willingly submitted himself to his test. I didn’t ask for cancer. But the outcome is amazingly similar, glad we made our journeys and learned what we are made of. When asked if he would do it again, he said something to the effect of “Oh hell no. It was awful! Glad I did it but that is off the bucket list. But I would climb another mountain…” I imagine the taste for adventure gets into your bloodstream as the oxygen is squeezed out by the thinning atmosphere. Perhaps, like childbirth, the bad memories will soften and fade.
The expedition brochures fail to mention the Everest cough which produces bloody sputum, the pulmonary edema which makes breathing feel like near suffocation, or the cerebral edema which causes disorientation, hallucinations and headaches. The mind-numbing confusion from lack of oxygen. They don’t mention the runs from contaminated water, the mostly vegan diet because it’s only in internet memes where sherpas carry refrigerators up the side of the mountain. You don’t dare touch the meat … dead chickens who have been marinating in sacks on someone’s back for four days. An egg and some cheese might be one of the only sources of protein you can stomach. Electricity is solar and runs out at night. Heat is a scarsity. Above the treeline, the only item in abundance to burn … is yak shit. Your appetite dies, and insomnia crawls into the cold sleeping bag with you. A chill settles in your bones and never leaves. Twelve days of pushing yourself over the brink of mental and physical limits every moment of every day. It’s not just about peak physical condition. It’s about mental stamina. Leaving your pride with your own feces behind a rock (What bush? It’s above the treeline!) And luck. Quickly changing temperatures and weather conditions are beyond your control. Altitude sickness can kill you.
It’s not your feet in (hopefully) comfortable hiking boots that propel you up the mountainside, it’s intensely unwavering resolve. It’s finding something to focus on to keep going. It’s crazy. With alcohol, you go into a somewhat stupified autopilot mode. Without oxygen, you just do really stupid shit, like walk off cliffs and throw away much needed supplies.
The doctors failed to tell me of the brutal hurdles ahead of me (brain and nerve damage, osteoporosis, elevated risk of more cancer), but I put one foot in front of the other and kept going, much like the mountaineers did. Do I have what it takes? Could I get my strength, stamina and cardio back to a level where I could do a climb? My resting heart rate was enviable before cancer, but after? It’s hard to find a body part that hasn’t suffered with treatment.
Why climb impossible mountains? Why punish yourself with gruelling endeavours to reach the tip of the world? The most succinct answer to this question comes from one of the first British climbers George Mallory … “Because it is there.” The stories become legends, and completely captivate while you realize that a hike up the side of the Himalayas is more of a duty to one’s soul rather than a leisure trip. It’s bragging rights. I am in awe of the entire journey. I’d do it for the breathtaking photographic opportunities. Linda stepped out on a boulder, thousands of feet down the cliff on the other side, and stood shoulder to shoulder with the clouds while someone snapped her triumphant smile in the photo. A breath-taking once in a lifetime opportunity.
I can’t do justice to their epic tales. “It needs to become a book!” I encouraged each of them! Today, I curled back into my pillows to read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer in Kindle and daydream.
Congrats to Richard, Linda & Michel on their amazing accomplishment.