This post takes me back. Way. Back. But I still remember the overwhelming emotions I felt on this trail when this moment occurred. I was thinking about this when my pal A. had to crawl out of bed to meet her Race for the Cure team after a late, late night out with me (sorry A., but I still blame you), and when my boss told me about her own experience with her daughter at the Race and how inspired they both felt. I knew what she meant. It truly can be a pretty overwhelming experience to be surrounded by women (and men!) who have overcome some pretty tough stuff and found themselves on the other side. Not the same, but ok.
Kind of like...
Ok, without further ado, here's some old shit. And more pics! OMG she's an exhibitionist now.
Cottonwood to Indian Gardens, Grand Canyon
I am a cancer survivor. I know that at least one out of ten Americans can (fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) can say the same thing. I don’t think I am anything special. I don’t necessarily feel good when people say that I “beat” or “conquered” the disease because to me that implies that all of my friends who didn’t somehow fell short, or maybe didn’t fight as hard as they could. I know that’s not the case.
Having cancer has shaped who I am. It is a part of my identity. But it is not My Identity. There are people that have known me for years that had (have?) no idea that I was once really sick. It’s not that I avoided the issue. I just never thought to mention it.
There are times when I am reminded, sometimes gently, sometimes like a punch to the gut, that being in remission from cancer does make you different. One of those times was climbing the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu where oxygen is already scarce because of the high altitude. Scar tissue over my lungs and diminished lung capacity, two leftovers from cancer days, combined with the physical exertion to make me feel like I was going to die. Seriously die. Thank God for my patient husband who climbed ¼ mile back down the trail to retrieve the blubbering, shuffling mess that I let myself become.
That entire day I was feeling sorry for myself, constantly reminding myself that I had serious disadvantages over the rest of the people on the trail. That may or may not have been true. I used my cancer as a crutch and clearly it wasn’t a very good one because it didn’t get me very far. M’s perfect walking stick ™ would have worked much better.
That was four years ago. I am much stronger, physically and mentally now. I know that there is probably nothing I will do that will be more physically challenging than the Inca Trail. It is my benchmark. As in, “Is this as hard as the Inca Trail? No? Then keep moving!” That’s my toughy inner voice, which shares space with my not-so-tough inner voice and the virtual jukebox in my head when I hike.
My not-so-tough voice was getting ready to note her objections to the switchbacks that steadily lead the way up to Indian Gardens, our next camp, when I had to step aside and make way for a mule train that was coming down the trail. I glanced up from my boot-gazing stance to say hello and found myself looking at at least twenty women wearing Race for the Cure t-shirts astride the mules. Some had short spiky hair. Are you a survivor?? I couldn’t help wondering. Are you a survivor? My heart started racing. Because I am a survivor, too! Hey! I’m a survivor!! I was so excited I think I was trembling. I kept smiling and trying to speak but I couldn’t. The words were caught in my throat. I am a survivor, too!!!
The mule train passed, probably wondering what the heck was wrong with this teary mute on the side of the trail, and I continued on my way. As usual, M. was distances ahead of me. I was alone with my thoughts, which were no longer mundane. I felt alive, elated, proud of myself, proud of those women. I felt grateful. I felt thankful. My steps had new purpose. I am hiking the Grand Canyon. I can hike the Grand Canyon. I am a survivor! Darn it if that darn Destiny’s Child song wasn’t stuck on continuous loop on Gabby’s virtual jukebox.
I made it to camp in record time. I don’t think I stopped once. M was shocked and amazed. He had barely put down his pack and filled his water bottle when I turned the corner. I didn’t need him to come to my rescue this time. I did it on my own. My cancer wasn’t my crutch; it was my motivation and my reason. I don’t think I am anything special for being a cancer survivor, but boy do I feel lucky.