After cancer and recurrent cancer, I feel lucky just to be alive, much less able to hike down this wonderful trail through the Rockies. At first it was hard to accept that cancer had been thrust into my life. Once, after I was diagnosed, I walked out of a movie theater feeling happy, then suddenly remembered that I supposedly only had a short time to live. My heart sank to its lowest possible level and I felt a sense of hopelessness. There was no way to prepare for such a drastic change in my outlook on life. I wanted a reason to be happy, but the cancer acted like an anchor, weighing me down.
Some doctors suggested that I consider not having treatment because they believed my cancer could not be cured. Others advised that I pursue various treatments. There were both optimists and pessimists around me, and in the end I had to weigh all the research, opinions, and my own gut feelings in order to decide which direction I wanted to go in. That is one idea I hope you will take away from this book: You and only you are responsible for deciding your path.
Because several of the cancer books I read while exploring treatment options suggested doing visualization, I thought I would give it a try. One day I visualized myself getting well—I saw all of the cancer cells dying, my body’s health taking over, and visualized myself completely healthy again. All of a sudden I felt a wave of freedom, as though I could actually do something about getting well. The something I could do was to believe in the possibility that I could get well. After that realization I felt so much happier. I decided that living with possibility was better than living without hope.
Scott and I received a lot of support from the people around us. The doctors and nurses who took care of me during cancer treatments acted in truly kind ways. Our friends spoke to us from their hearts, making us feel loved. Our family members visited regularly and checked on us to see if we were okay. All of these things helped us to be strong. Scott was in this with me from day one. He never spoke in a way that separated him from my medical problems. He always assumed that cancer was his problem to solve, too. I felt his incredible support and that he was part of the ups and downs with me. (Although I do admit feeling some jealousy when he got to go out for Mexican food at dinnertime and I had to stay in my hospital bed. I try not to hold it against him.)
In our lives before cancer, Scott and I loved doing almost anything outdoors. We felt enlivened and recharged when we came home from a hike or a canoe trip or a bike ride in a beautiful place. Memories of these kinds of places provided me with a mental refuge when I was working toward getting well. In times of pain I mentally escaped to my favorite places in the outdoors—hiking in the Rockies with the sun on my back.
It was a blessing that we were able to hike down the Continental Divide Trail of Montana after my cancer experience. The hiking parts of this story show the joy (and sometimes exhaustion) we felt as we made our way through Montana. In the first few days we were in awe of just being out there. After a couple of bear encounters we felt fear and questioned why we were there. Maybe it sounds crazy for us to have spent years getting me well from cancer, only to go out into grizzly bear country. But we wanted to be back in the wild country that I dreamed of when things were at their worst.
So many events and emotions are tied up together in my cancer experience over the last nine years. I want to share that experience in an effort to help others, especially those who might be dealing with cancer or supporting someone with cancer. You may feel hopelessness, fear, impatience, and anxiety over your treatment, as I did. Please know you’re not alone. In the story that follows, Scott shares our emotions and dreams; perhaps you will relate to them. Scott tells our story carefully, at times humorously, reflecting as closely as possible what happened. He shares his thoughts and feelings through the story and weaves in mine. My hope is that reading about our experience will help you better deal with how cancer has affected your life.
I realized during my cancer experience that each of us has a hundred times more strength than we realize. This strength helps us get through seemingly impossible moments. May you find this strength and use it to guide you along your path to well-being.