What age were you when you realized that things we learn in one specific place can all of the sudden be applied to so many other areas of our lives? I somewhat knew this, however I don’t think I had the true conscious understanding of this idea until I was 35. Just over two years ago I got the news that I was carrying a 7cm, stage 3 high grade, cancerous tumor in my leg. Obviously not the news that I had hoped for so early in life.
The next few parts of this story will highlight the positive parts and lessons that I got from this experience. Please understand that I did NOT feel like this 100% of the time and nor should you when facing tragedy and trauma. We should focus on the lessons and the good parts of the journey, but we will inevitably experience ups and plenty of downs. Highlight reels are for social media, not life experiences.
I often hear a few statements and get asked questions such as:
Well , I’m here to tell you two things. Nobody knows and yes you could. You can conquer the terrible situation(s) that will inevitably come your way. We are often unaware of our true strength until are forced to find and use it. Just trust me, it’s there and it’ll be there when you need it. Think about a difficult route you’ve tried climbing or when your hike decides to give you a 60mph headwind on your way back to the trailhead. You’re probably not still stuck on that wall because you were too afraid to continue. You’re most likely not sitting on that same trail right now waiting for the weather to improve or a rescue helicopter to randomly appear in the sky. You dug deep, you put one foot (and hand, if climbing) in front of the other one at a time. You drop your head, lower your shoulders and march on. It gets miserable at times and you start to get hungry, thirsty and maybe you even end up with a few cuts and bruises on the way up or back. Quitting has crossed your mind dozens of times and you may have even fantasized what quitting would feel like. But inevitably, at some point you reach your car or the ground safely and can’t really remember too much of the intricacies of your recent struggle. You remember all the negative obstacles that stood tall in your way. Recounting all of the horrible thoughts you had about yourself and this journey you were on. Yet you struggled to remember the good parts that got you back. There were sections on the trail that were lined with trees and rocks that gave you momentary reprieve from the miserable wind. You forget about the little gravely foothold that you swore wouldn’t hold you but somehow did and got you over that crux. Our minds go straight back to the curse words we muttered or yelled at the top of our lungs in frustration. We focus on the throbbing and torn up hands, the blisters on your feet and the low tiny rock that caught our toe and nearly sent us flying head first into the ground.
One way or another you made it. If you were climbing, maybe you didn’t make it. You may have given up for the day and returned the next weekend to tackle it again. But you still made it eventually. Hopefully you’ve been collecting experiences throughout your life that prove that you can get through difficult times. Broken hearts mend, blisters dry ups and heal, and cuts on our hand scab over. Thankfully, my cancer shrunk with intensive chemotherapy, my hair grew back, I lost the 20 pounds I gained from the steroids, had over 90% of my outer quadricep muscle removed in surgery and blasted any potential remaining cancer cells with localized radiation.
I know I was one of the lucky ones. Not everyone makes it out of a stage 3 or 4 cancer diagnosis. However, you need to know and understand that it wasn’t because the patient didn’t have the fight in them to lower their shoulder and fight on. Lightning struck, a flash flood came out of nowhere, a rock gave away or something beyond their control decided their fate. They fought as hard and harder than any of us ever have, but the higher powers, fate or bad luck took the wheel. That happens, I wish it didn’t but it does. Daily. 2 years out from treatment I’m still left wondering why survival isn’t a fair game. Why don’t good people, innocent children and every brave soul who wanted to fight to live survive? I still have no answers after 600+ days of thinking about it and I’ve given up the idea that I’ll ever understand. The only thing that I do know is that there is only one way to make it through the most difficult diagnosis, hikes, climbs, sections of whitewater and false summits. Dig deep, allow people to help you when you need it and have faith that you are strong enough to come out the other side a stronger and wiser human.
Outside of asking you to have faith and trust that your inner strength is there, I have one other piece of advice. Practice your grit and work on remembering the positive things you do when facing adversity. Get outside and (safely) climb, hike, paddle, etc. the hard stuff that you’re not sure is in your wheelhouse. When something that’s not an outdoor adventure comes your way and tries to kill you physically or emotionally, you’ll be better prepared for that battle. It’ll still hurt more than you thought you could take, but you’ll have better tools to enter that battle.
Much love. Stay safe and enjoy your life. You may not be around forever.