I am currently training and fundraising for the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In less than four weeks I will be embarking on a climb to summit Mt. Hood on a survivor climb. You can read more about the cause, the climb and why I'm doing it here.
I am just $500 shy of reaching the $3,000 fundraising goal and with barely over three weeks left to train for the ascent, I am excited, thrilled, nervous and fearful. I wrote the below post on my fundraising page to purge some of these fears and excuses so I can focus on the positive side of training.
I little over a year ago, while I was still living in NYC, a friend of mine convinced me to go to the climbing gym with him. We both did a significant amount of rock climbing in our college to mid-20s days but hadn't been much at all in recent memory. Once a week we met at the subway and on the train ride to Brooklyn we settled into a ritual of listing our excuses for the evening. These excuses ranged from a paper cut to a cold to peripheral neuropathy and ancient climbing shoes (our joke was that my shoes were older than many of the kids at the gym). It was kind of therapeutic to get it all out in the open at the beginning so we didn't get whiny once we were there.
In that spirit, I am going to make a list of all the excuses I have for the upcoming climb of Mt Hood now so they are out of my head and in the open so I can just focus on my training from here on out. Here goes:
- I'm out of shape and it doesn't seem to make much difference how much I exercise or what type of exercise I do, I feel stagnant in my progress. I blame medications, depression, laziness, fear and a metabolism bogged down by three years' worth of cancer fighting, body debilitating toxins.
- Peripheral neuropathy. This is a mysterious side effect to chemotherapy that has virtually no cure. I've been given physical therapy exercises that help. I've been advised to wear compression socks and wait for time to heal it. But it isn't going away. What is it? Peripheral neuropathy is a result of nerve damage from chemotherapy which causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet. For me it is primarily in my feet but can manifest in my hands as well. It starts as a slight tingling in my right toes - for some reason the middle toes get it first. If I ignore it and keep hiking (when it usually kicks in) it will spread through my toes, into the ball of my foot and at some point spread across my left foot as well. It is a hot tingling sensation that precedes numbness similar to when your foot "falls asleep" but it doesn't spring back to wakefulness as easily. The best thing to do is stop, take off my shoes and socks and flex and point and massage the feet back to life. I don't always do this since it generally flares up near the end of a hike and I try to just push to the end. Somehow this makes me feet feel heavier and clumsier so I get a bit stumbley. Bottom line, it sucks. But the more I hike the longer I can go before it flares.
- Pleurisy. In early March I started experiencing chest pain I couldn't pin to an injury or any specific cause. After an ultrasound to rule out cancer recurrence, a bone scan and xray to rule out bone metastasis or a broken rib, the doctors all shrugged their shoulders and said it was likely pleurisy. Pleurisy is swelling of the thin layers of tissue (pleura) covering the lungs and the chest wall. It started on the right side but moved to the left where I still feel some twinges of it. Again, no real treatment available, just time heals situation.
- Speaking of my lungs, I have asthma. Well controlled, rare flareups but spring brings allergies which means increased diligence with my asthma. Spring hiking means slightly impaired lungs. Never sure if I get out of breath quickly due to being out of shape, pleurisy or allergies
- Weight gain. Before I was diagnosed with cancer my image of a survivor was someone shrunken from all the drugs and puking. I had no idea that some cancers (or more accurately, chemotherapy and hormone therapy regimens) give the added gift of extra pounds. Lots of them that don't go away. Add depression (another side effect) and anti-depressant medications and the whole metabolism system get thrown off. It can sometimes feel that the go to combo of diet and exercise have virtually no impact. Aside from vanity, the challenge here is that it impacts balance, strength (it feels far more difficult to add muscle) and it is frustrating to not fit into clothing and gear that was upsized just one season ago.
- Fatigue. This is more than just being tired and it is not being lazy. It is an inability to be perked up by sleep or caffeine, it is an overwhelming feeling of tiredness or exhaustion that feels like gravity is pulling extra hard on your body. I've been working on this for over two years and while time has helped, finding the right balance of medication has been the biggest boost along with implementing pacing and prioritizing strategies to increase my endurance.
- I'm terrible at pacing myself. Naturally, I am a charge forward type of person. At the bottom of a hill I am the one who will charge up. Slow and steady has never come easy to me. Given all of the above, I have to work more diligently at setting a slow and steady pace for myself and sticking with it.
- Failure. Over the last three years I have had to quit, alter, adapt, delay and completely change plans and goal both short and long term in every aspect of my life. It doesn't get easier the more I have to do it. Sometimes it just feels inevitable. Pushing past a fear of defeat, fear of failure, fear of coming up short is one of the hardest things I face each day. But I know if I stop trying then the fear has one. I'm sure there is a great quote or saying out there somewhere that more artfully states that it is better to try and fail than to not try at all . . . but I will leave it at that.
I'm sure I could go on and on listing reasons why I should not or maybe cannot climb Mt Hood in a few weeks. But I will stop because I have made the decision to climb because it is a cause I believe in and despite all my excuses, I know this is something that is achievable no matter my fears.