A couple of years ago, we visited Big Bend National Park in western Texas to do some hiking. As we slowly ascended Lost Mine Trail to the ridge with its 1200-foot elevation change, straining to breathe. My heart was pumping furiously in my chest and my feet aching from the uneven trail.
After a couple of hours of hiking uphill, we finally reached the top of the almost 7000-foot rocky ridge summit, winded but elated. As I looked out at the spectacular views of Pine Canyon and the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico from the top, I thought about how climbing mountains is like my cancer journey. How climbing mountains represents making the impossible seem possible.
My cancer journey
In 2016, I was diagnosed with two types of cancer. First was a rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera (PV). I barely had time to absorb this news when the diagnosis of breast cancer followed only two months later. It devastated me. I went through the usual grief emotions and for a while, things seemed hopeless. Despondent and angry, I wondered why me? Depressed, I wondered why I should even bother fighting.
However, once I completed the breast cancer chemo, surgeries and began medication for the PV, I started feeling better and I looked at life in a more positive way. Both mentally and physically, things improved. I climbed slowly up the mountain of recovery, pushing forward towards the top.
Mountains are a metaphor for our life challenges. They can also symbolize moving forward and reaching a goal. I think back to my childhood and watching the Sound of Music on TV every year (I know, I’m dating myself). One of my favorite songs from that musical was Climb Every Mountain. The beautiful lyrics of the chorus... climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream… gets me every time I watch it.
More recently, Miley Cyrus sang a song called The Climb in the rather campy 2009 Hannah Montana movie. Although I watched Hannah Montana faithfully for many years (with my kids, just to caveat), I’m not a huge Miley Cyrus fan. However, I absolutely love this song. Its lyrics fit so perfectly to my cancer story. I especially like chorus, which to paraphrase, says they’ll always be an uphill battle and to keep pushing through.
As I move forward following my diagnosis, I’m finding I’m a new person. Now, no matter the obstacle I'm facing in my path or regardless of what is thrown at me, I take it as a challenge. Yes, there are days when I struggle to get out of bed and want to just hit the snooze button, but life is too short. I want to keep climbing.
Ascending mountains are a little like life. We can be content in the valley and never venture outside of it. Or we can keep climbing up that rocky, uneven path and embrace the view at the top. I choose the latter.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?