Andrew’s Birthday…

Thursday was Andrew’s 48th birthday. Never in a million years would I have imagined that we would have spent this particular birthday feeling what we were feeling, nor having the experiences we have been having in the past 4 weeks. In fact, my mind has been so distracted that I forgot to buy balloons, a tradition, if not an unspoken rule in our family.

We had planned on spending the day together while the kids were at school. And yet, it had been a funky week (to say the least). Andrew hadn’t felt well and had skipped a 14’er hike he was hoping to do and I had been completely out of sorts, and thus we rolled into Wednesday night quite rudderless. Time was growing closer to departure, closer to surgery, and “time was running out”. Thus, Andrew decided to head down to the Collegiates and hike Mount Princeton, a 14’er he had never been up. We talked at great length about the plan, the potential outcome, how to be smart and listen to his body, etc. Of course, I encouraged him to go, despite feeling nervous about his health/never-ending cold, and the potential to set himself back even further….and thus risking his surgical date of 9/4. You see, I had become quite attached to Wednesday, September 4th. I have had my heart and mind set on September 4th for weeks now. In fact, I have been basing my days around how many days left until September 4th. And, I also could think of no better celebration for my sweet man on his birthday than to stand on top of a Colorado 14’er, in the wilderness, at altitude, appreciating the beauty of the state we have chosen to live in, as well as being able to feel his body function at its best, with full lung capacity.

When I look back at early last week and reflect on how deeply I was struggling, I am humbled. I am also embarrassed. I pride myself on being strong. I pride myself on being able to rise above and take anything that comes my way. And I pride myself on being able to override pain, and override fatigue, and override stress. Yet, it was just not that simple for me. Apparently, I am merely human. I wish I were more. I wish I were stronger and more in control. Yet I am not. For that, I guess I am grateful. And yet, I was so challenged by my own self in the early part of this past week. I would look at Andrew, and he was fighting a cold, struggling with a lung cancer diagnosis, writing blogs, reading and studying, checking in with me, fathering our children and more. And seemingly all ok. No fear, no anxiety, functioning. I, on the other hand, couldn’t get out of my own way, despite how hard I tried. I struggled. I struggled to sleep. I struggled to smile. I struggled to feel the gratitude and appreciation for Andrew’s incredibly positive prognosis and our collective great fortune. I was consumed by my own discomfort, and my fears and my anxiety. I tried to talk about it. Yet truth be told, I isolated. I put my head down, took care of Andrew and the children and trusted that this very uncomfortable time would pass. And it did.

And then it was Wednesday, the day before Andrew’s birthday. And then it was Thursday, Andrew’s birthday — over the hump, and into the final week before surgery and the veil lifted. I began to feel lighter. I began to feel brighter. And I slept. And I celebrated the fact that I chose to marry a man who is already a survivor, and will continue to be a survivor….and very soon will have the great honor of joining an incredible group of people who are Cancer Survivors. And I couldn’t feel more grateful. And I couldn’t feel brighter or more optimistic.  And I truly couldn’t be happier to be able to celebrate Andrew’s 48th birthday together with him, beside him, and in complete love with him.

Yet, I still carry some fear. I still carry some anxiety. Yet I do so, while also having a cup runneth over with positivity and love that I can feel down to my cells.

We leave tomorrow for Houston. Lang can’t wait to take a plane ride, Chase is dreading the heat of Houston, and Miller is standing tall and perhaps just a bit too strong and stoic. Andrew just sent me all of his respective usernames and passwords, “just in case”. This is all so strange and surreal. And, I am about to head to bed. I know I will sleep tonight.

Three more sleeps.

Next year, I am sure I will remember balloons for Andrew’s 49th…



Mind Games…

“Our life is shaped by our mind…”

– The Dhammapada

I spent yesterday in the mountains of Colorado, an environment I love and that has always nourished me. In fact, I have invested a lot of time in my life seeking out high alpine environments on foot, ropes, and skis and have had the good fortune to stand on many hundreds of summits.

One might think that it would get easier once you have done it more than a few times. Yet the reality is that it is always hard. Mountains demand respect. And everyone, no matter age, fitness, or experience has to work hard each and every time. I have found that the hardest part of climbing any mountain, real or metaphoric, is the mental discipline needed to push through the inevitable adversity that arises after the initial adrenaline wears off. In fact, on every ascent it is a certainty that it will get hard. There are always moments where I wonder why I am doing this?  Where the thought of quitting, no matter how fleeting, arises and tempts with an easy out and justified rationalization. The goal is to persevere and get past the mental blocks the mind presents.

Yesterday I took 3 boys, all 12 years old, up two 14,000 ft. mountains. I counseled them that their minds would give out long before their bodies. That when climbing mountains, like everything in life, we essentially have control over 2 elements – our attitude and our level of effort. Everything else is subjective and dependent on a host of variables outside of our control. Yet with the right attitude, and a consistent and focused effort there is little that the human spirit cannot overcome. I find it is so easy  to say that…much harder to put it into practice.

I have cancer. I feel like I need to keep saying it, because after almost three weeks I don’t think I really believe it. Talk about a mind game! And the weirdest and surrealist part of my journey is that physically I feel fine. And for the most part I feel fine mentally as well. And then, when I least expect it it creeps into my consciousness…I have cancer. And like climbing the proverbial mountain, I hit the wall and want to turn around,  I waver on the edge of letting the cancer get me down. It is so odd to be fit and active, and yet to have a life threatening illness growing in my lungs every day. Lung cancer, seriously? Of all the types of cancer for me to contract? Cycling, mountain biking, skiing, hiking peaks, running…I like to use my lungs. I like to be active. I feel like whining “it’s so unfair”. Right, isn’t that what we tell the kids “life isn’t always fair”. Seems a bit different when we are mediating sharing toys or a piece of candy, but I guess it is all relevant. Truth is life isn’t fair.

And then there is the temptation to complain, to be the victim. It seems that everywhere I look these days I see people smoking, usually in cars, and often with a 64oz soda in the cup holder. And yet I have cancer? What? Why me?

Or the fear that creeps in when my guard is down, the risks of surgery, the concern that the doctors have missed something, that it has spread, that there will be complications…that…insert worst case scenario of your choice. “But you will be different, you are lucky you caught it early, you are healthy, etc.” And what if that is not the case…Am I really lucky? I have cancer after all. Am I being to cavalier? Do I need a second and third opinion? Am I in denial that this will be a quick surgical solution and then on with life? Just a small blip in my life’s path?

And then there are moments of pure annoyance. Cancer sucks, I am feeling great and I don’t want major thoracic surgery. I don’t want them to take out parts of my lungs and lymph, I don’t want weeks of recovery, and I certainly don’t want 5+ days in a hospital. I really detest hospitals. I am all too familiar with them and I have loathed every night I have spent in a hospital bed.

While I don’t want to admit it, there is a part of me that wants to maintain the perception that I am great all the time. We are going to push through this and I am one of the lucky ones…AND that is not entirely true. There is also the darker side that hangs there nipping at me when I let my guard down. Wants to draw me towards the negative. In fact if I let it, I am sure my mind will run away with itself and take me in tow. Unbridled it shows no restraint in what it can conjure. And isn’t that really the case for most of us? If we don’t make a conscious choice to be positive, the mind can imagine anything we let it.  “All phenomena are projections of the mind”. We cultivate our reality. And we choose how we respond to the “the mountains” in our life that each of us must scale.

So I am making a conscious and focused choice to be a mental and spiritual warrior. I have re-dedicated myself to what had been my dormant meditation practice. To work with my mind to set the right intention, to shape a positive reality, to stand in the light without fear of what “could be, should be, or would be”. There is no doubt, the adrenaline has worn off, and I am facing a steep climb. It is going to get hard, and I am determined to summit this peak. And along the way I know I will falter, I already have, yet with the right attitude and continued effort I am going to push through. I’ve got this.

“The mind is the source of all experience, and by changing the direction of the mind, we can change the quality of everything we experience”

– Buddha