October was not only birthday month but test month. I’ve had a mammogram, blood test, colonoscopy, a CT scan plus I met with my new oncologist ( by video call). New doc is nice and listens, maybe because I’m right there in his face. The good news is my scan came back clear. I still need to go in for a endoscopy as I am still having trouble swallowing.
Between the lack of appetite and trouble swallowing I have to keep an eye on my weight. Ironically this time last year I was buying bigger pants, they don’t fit now without pins. My weight has always been an “issue”.
Eating because I was sad, happy, bored used to be a thing. A joy of thru hiking was getting to eat anything and a lot of it. Mmm, food. Now, well it’s a chore and a complication. I lagged on my last hike because couldn’t eat enough calories. So much of everything revolves around food. When I go out with friends first order of business is locating the restroom in case I get hit with nausea. I have to eat slowly, I hate having people wait for me. Hate wasting food but sometimes it’s just too much.
So my unsolicited advice is take care of yourself..but eat the damn cake!
On the upside my CT scan did come back good. More tests in December to figure out the swallowing issue. Til then I’m working on a new project, waxing up my skis and looking forward to getting back in the mountain this winter.
Waking up in my tent I felt the familiar pit in my stomach like before every backcountry hiking trip. But this was kinda different. I can’t do this. I’m not sure I want to do this, what if something goes wrong, breaks, hurts……When did I become this person. Oh yeah it came with my cancer diagnosis. Side effects: Fear and self-doubt.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. After my surgery I didn’t do much of anything. What could I do? What was I supposed to do? So I spent days dreaming about getting back to hiking and my life in general. Knowing I needed to start out slow I latched onto an old idea of hiking the Trans Catalina Trail.
The trail runs along Catalina Island, which is 22 miles off the coast of Southern California. (trail distance 38.5 miles), Planning and getting there is an adventure in itself, and part of why I’ve always put it off. There are reservations for campsites and a 60-90 minute boat ride via the Catalina Express. (oh and if you happen to mess up and book your campsite on the wrong day they charge you $9.00 to cancel! Tourist trap.) After getting thoroughly ripped off it was time to pull together some gear.
My pack, shoes and sleeping system is alway at the ready, cuz you never know. But I needed to get some new trekking poles and I had to borrow a tent from a friend. I was gonna purchase a new tent but the fearful,doubting voice in my head was all “what if it goes badly, you never backpack again and you’re stuck with a tent you’ll never use again”. I was listening to the voice.
So on Monday I drove up to Dana Point to catch the ferry. By the time I got on the afternoon ferry lugging my heavy pack I was tired and slept the whole boat ride. After a quick bite to eat (two bites of a grilled cheese, I can’t eat much in one setting anymore. This was a concern knowing the calories I’d burn hiking) I walked sweating to the first campsite. Finding my spot quickly, I threw up my tent, crawled in as if I could hide. It was still light out.
The pit in my stomach only highlighted my lack of appetite. Oh well, I popped my meds (a new addition to my gear list). I packed early/quickly before I talked myself into going right back to the ferry. The climbing started straight away. It really sucked when people started passing me. The voice in my head was singing a different tune “no worries, we have all day”. I drank more water….if I couldn’t bring myself to eat at least I could be hydrated.
There was a lot of, well, stopping and resting. It’s an exposed trail with endless ups and downs. I wasn’t moving much faster than the first buffalo I saw on a hilltop. Super happy to finally make my campsite (Backpackers can stay at four campgrounds along the way, each with bathrooms and running water.) I tried to force down a dehydrated meal, but it didn’t go down well. Eventually I just ended up eating ramen with two flavor packs. I needed the salt desperately for the cramps in my legs.
Sure it’s been awhile since I did a multiday hike. But you would have thought this was my first time. Waking to a thick layer of fog and cool drizzle it dawned on me I didn’t even pack a rain jacket or even long sleeves! But I live in the desert, whats rain? Looking at the elevation for the day I said screw it, popped my meds and I started hiking in the drizzle. The drizzle soon ended but the overcast sky made for a much cooler hike! A very nice ranger gifted me some water, I needed it. Later, at one point I rounded a corner, I came upon two bison one coming right towards me, one lolling on the hillside. I stopped. The buffalo, with huge a head, shaggy beard and sharp horns, stared at me. I took some steps back. There is currently a herd of about 160 on the island. Having hunted bison, back in my hunting phase, I wasn’t too scared.
Expecting to get into Two Harbors after 5, fueled by Skittles I made it by 3pm! Yah me! But I was hella tired and some how missed the campsite by a 1/4 mile.
As I dragged myself to the local store I heard someone call in my direction. Odd. I turned and a you guy approached. He told me he followed me on IG and had hiked the PCT. I rarely meet people like that. Our chat was short, but his kind words and generosity meant so much. Thanks Branden. In an era of diversity inclusion and rasied tensions more people have helped me than tried to hurt me. That has been my outdoor experience.
I would have love to beach camp at Parson’s Landing, but everyone does and it was full. So I did some eplorative hiking and then beat it back to catch the shuttle boat then hop on the ferry. All in all It is was a tough challenging time but that is how we grow the most. My faith (in my abilities) was not completely restored and many adaptations are necessary to hike in my current state. But I’m not giving up or giving in. The fear, doubt and cancer will not win.
It’s weird what you don’t know until you need to know. I considered myself pretty healthy and active prior to my diagnosis. I’m dealing with it. (side note that used to be the name of my very first blog) How am I dealing with it? They (the docs) have me on “targeted drugs”. It’s primarily a chemo pill that I take everyday at home. Plus a reflux drug and an alphabet of vitamins. Yes there are side effects; like stomach upset, vomiting, muscle pain, skin changes, memory issues and feeling generally tired.
It’s not the chemo everyone knows. So I tend to get treated as fragile by my family (as they saw me at my worst) unresponsive in the hospital. Then others who haven’t seen me for months think “hey she looks fine”. The scars are mostly hidden and the turmoil is on the inside. I’m not fragile but I’m not ok. That’s easier to write than to say out loud.
Learning to live with a cancer diagnosis has been difficult and very stressful. But you guessed that. The change in my cognitive/physical abilities has caused significant distress. I become overwhelmed, at times, with multiple tasks, distractions. Just leaving the house for a social occasion leads to stress. I’m used to hiding that though. The muscle soreness and hip pain really blows as you may have heard I like to walk. My long walk plans for the fall will be different than before and are maybe contingent on what the doc says.
But hey I don’t think that will stop me. I’ve beat death! Oh right I haven’t told you about that. I did. Not ready to talk about that yet though. Not totally sure why I am sharing all this, I’m not usually this “sharing”. But hey the game has changed, for me anyway.
Luckily I’ve found groups for information/support like LRG (Life Raft Group) and Gist International. My good friend sent me a book called Chris Beats Cancer, with great healthy living information. These sources have given me a plethora of information I was unaware of.
For now I’m dealing with the hard changes. The muscle soreness and hip pain hopefully will go away since it makes walking long distances difficult. But it’s also hard not to worry about cancer coming back.
That reminds me, symptoms of cancer are not always obvious. I did not see this coming and it blew my life up. If you are not feeling well go see your doctor. Check your health insurance, run all the tests, eat something healthy, reduce your stress…. because this sucks.