Back to Colchuck Lake

This is one of my favorite locations in Washington. It never disappoints. There is something special about the color of an alpine lake and the surrounding dark grey peaks. The lake immediately draws your attention due the color. It’s always a wow moment. I can’t stop looking at the surrounding peaks and rock formations. They are so impressive. We saw some people hiking up a snow section next to Asgard Pass. Now sure where they were going. Maybe into the Enchantments. One guy came back down with skis, having hiked up and skied back down. Mad props for that guy as that is a CLIMB!!!

You hear a lot about Asgard Pass. How difficult it is. Sitting at the lake staring at it you realize how tall it is. That’s quite a bit of climbing in the snow. I can see how you would be exhausted when you finally got to the top. I have to admit though I kept staring at it and wondering what’s on the other side. I’ve seen lots of pictures of the Enchantments. It’s called that for a reason! One day I’ll apply for that lottery and venture out on that 4 day backpacking trip!

We were lucky enough to see goats! A few in our group saw a momma goat and got a glimpse of a fluffy baby who was quite shy. We also saw a fairly large black tail deer. He had about 6 velvety antlers growing.

Colchuck is such a peaceful place. Even though it is a pretty busy trail it isn’t loud. You can still hear all the sounds of nature. Look around at all the lush ground cover. At certain spots on the trail you have openings where you can see all the rock spires surrounding the area. They are massive. Amazing!

People swim in this alpine lake. This very cold lake!! We saw the usual unicorn floaty that someone packed up there. I have to admit it looks pretty relaxing on a nice sunny day but having put my feet in the water I’m not brave, or crazy, enough to jump in. I’m sure it is refreshing along with heart stopping!

When I’m Leavenworth I also have to stop at the Cheesemonger. They have the best sheep and goat cheese!!! Also our usual post hike grub stop at Gustav’s! They have the best pepper burger and their fries are crazy good!

Another amazing hike in Washington! We are so lucky to live here!

Mt St Helens ūüėćūüėćūüėć

I’ve lived in Washington state pretty much my whole life. I walked by a view of Mt St Helens on my way to school. On May 18, 1980 I walked two blocks from my house and watched the eruption. A huge plume of grey ash that just kept getting larger and larger. My dad got called into work as they anticipated issues at the airport. My brother was flying to Hawaii as the mountain erupted and watched it from the sky. The ash blew away from us and hit Eastern Washington and Idaho pretty bad. I remember seeing all the photos of cars covered with inches of ash. Emergency vehicles with these crazy ventilation systems attached. People walking around wearing masks. We heard about the local life of Harry Truman. Pictures of the devastation and stories of lives lost. Hard to grasp the totality of the situation as a kid.

After everything settled down the money making began! Everywhere you went you could purchase small containers of ash, pictures of the eruption, t-shirts, etc. It was crazy!

I’ve been to Mt St Helens once since the eruption. The devastation caused by the eruption is really hard to understand the magnitude until you see it in person. It is a massive hole. A new lake. Probably millions of trees thrown around like toothpicks. Powerful!

I never knew you could climb Mt St Helens. I just learned about that last year. I decided to try for a permit. I know thousands of people apply. Far more than can get them. I was ready the minute the purchase window opened!! Well let’s just say the institute had a small problem with the permit purchase and the system crashed in minutes. Wow were people unhappy!! People can be so cruel, disrespectful and just downright nasty on social media. The institute had to regroup and get a new plan together for permit sales. The second time wasn’t exactly smooth but we got our permits!! They only issue 100 permits per day so we were feeling pretty lucky!! Let the mountain training begin!!

Four months later the day actually arrived. We drove down on Sunday night. As we drove to the Sno-Park the forest cleared and we got a clear shot of Mt St Helens. I have to admit that was the first time I realized how large that mountain is and thought about the fact we would actually be climbing to the summit in the morning! Freely admit I had a moment of self doubt! Followed by excitement!!!

We decided to tent that night and get up at 2:45 to hit the trail by 3:30 am. That night there was a thunderstorm circling in the distance. No rain for us but wow did we have a great sunset. I bet the alpenglow on Mt St Helens was spectacular!! A little beef stew dehydrated meal for dinner and time to call it a night. Surprisingly I slept a bit and got up at 2:45 am with no problem!

We hit the trail at 3:30. The first couple miles are through the forest with a bit of elevation but really just a nice warmup! It’s dark and we are navigating via headlamp. So we are trekking right along and I hear this weird noise off in the distance. Kind of a cross between a howl and a growl. Todd didn’t hear it so we just kept walking. A couple minutes later we heard it again. We both heard it that time. We heard it probably four times in total. No clue what is was but it was safely off in the distance. No bear spray. Todd said Mt St Helens has the most Bigfoot sightings so I thought that would be pretty funny! Just what we need……to see Bigfoot!! What a story that would have been but luckily nothing to encounter!

We hiked on the winter route which is called Worm Flows Climbing Route. It’s really divided into 3 sections, 12 miles round trip and 5,700 feet elevation gain. The sections are: Forest. Pumice rock and ground up pumice rock. Followed by snow fields to the summit. The forest was pretty mild as you are pretty much walking on a really wide trail.

Pumice fields generally suck! Once we emerged from the forest the winds were very noticeable. Sustained winds were pretty strong and the gusts were about 25 mph. That wasn’t very fun. Having ground up pumice rock thrown at your face at 25 mph hurts! You had to climb around and over the rocks and walk through what felt like sand. This section was about a mile long and all uphill. The sand made it difficult and energy sucking and the wind just made it worse. Unfortunately the wind followed us most of the way up!

We finally made it out of the pumice fields! Thankfully!!! I’ve never been so happy to hike in snow!!! Time for microspikes!

The snow sections are steep and I mean steep!! We had to toe punch into the snow to get any traction. The snow was so slushy you really had to pay attention or you would fall or slide. There are two sections of snow. Those sections took 3 hours alone to climb! It was exhausting!! Legs felt good though so I was happy with my training. I did learn that I have trouble deep lung breathing since my last surgery. Clearly have to stretch out my muscles more to get that back!

We arrived at the ridgeline…finally!! 6.5 hours after we started! What a view!! Mt Rainer was directly in front and spectacular as usual! Mt Adams was off to the side and pretty amazing!! Mt Hood was behind us and much further in the distance. The rocks around the rim were chocolate colored with hints of red. The dome was spewing steam and was quite a bit larger than I was expecting. You could see several visible fractures in the snow and a huge snow slab near the summit that is ready to fall. The sounds of the ice cracking was a bit eerie!we were waiting to watch large sections of snow and ice fall into the crater. The whole setting was spectacular and left us with a sense of awe of the power of mother nature. One side of the mountain is essentially missing. Followed by a huge clearing that still exists 38 years later. A new lake named Spirit Lake and Mt Rainier in the distance. I love the PNW!! We are so lucky to have all this beautiful scenery!!

After an hour at the top we decided to start down. The best way to get down Mt St Helens is glissading!!! OMG so much fun!!!! The chutes are easily found and it took us 21 seconds to slide down what took us 90 minutes to climb! Felt like a kid again!!

Unfortunately we had to hike down the pumice fields. The lower snow fields had obvious fractures which made it unsafe. Down the pumice fields was brutal!! It was now pretty warm around 80 degrees. Those fields felt like they went on forever!! It look us 3.5 hours to get back to the parking lot.

This was a challenging climb but also a spectacular one. I’ve never done anything like that before. The scenery was amazing! The mountain leaves you in awe!

So glad I decided to climb Mt St Helens! What an unforgettable experience!!!

Back to Beckler Peak and it did not disappoint!

Todd and I hiked Beckler Peak last fall. The views from Beckler peak are legendary. Full 360 views on a clear day. Well unfortunately we did not chose a good weather day so the hike was rainy, cold and miserable. To top it off it was all clouded in so zero views!

Not this time! The weather was perfect! We started out in dirt and hiked for a good mile before the snow started. The interesting part was it went from no snow to a very distinct snow line and it got deep quick!

We passed a lean mountain man on his way down. He gave us the info on the trail or really the lack of trail. This trial is known for all the switchbacks but there are none visible! So instead of winding our way up the mountain the path now is straight up! Seems like a great training hike for Mt St Helens!

This was quite the incline. Weaving around the trees with 6-10 foot deep tree wells. The snow was deep!! We kept up our pace and came out on the ridge line with some gorgeous views!! There wasn’t hardly a cloud in the sky! The sky was deep blue offset by snow covered mountains. It doesn’t get any better than that!!

Just before the summit we hit a crazy steep section that really was more of a scramble. The snow was deep and soft and there were several visible gaping holes! It was hard to tell if it was a horizontal break in the snow due to an underground stream or just a huge hole. Let’s just say it fell into the “sketchy” category. It was uncomfortable going up but I was more worried about going down!

We met a couple young guys on the way up. They were very nice and pretty funny! They gave us much praise for being two 50+ year olds grinding this hike out! We actually had lunch with them at the top. Normally the top is a huge rock that people sit on or on the hill coming up to the rock. This day is was covered in a good 10 feet of snow so it was difficult to see where the edge was. Didn’t want to get to close to that as it was a long way down!!

The views though!! OMG!!! Just stunning! Amazing hike! So glad we came back!!

Mt Teneriffe is not Mailbox!

So my hiking buddy Todd and I have permits to summit Mt St Helens in June so we have some training hikes to get in. We’ve already done Mailbox Peak so another recommendation was Mt Teneriffe. It seemed manageable so we decided to give it a whirl! I’ve hiked to the falls before and that’s a fairly easy hike so I figured this one was good. There is a new trail and an old trail. The old trail goes by the falls then takes you up to the top. It’s much shorter than the new trail but quite a bit steeper. The hillside is eroding so they are trying to move people over to the new trail. We opted for new trail up and old trail down. Probably not a smart idea with the upper trail conditions!

I’m researching this hike many people compared it to Mailbox. I’m honestly not sure how that comparison works. They are nothing alike! Mailbox is short and steep! New trail Teneriffe is long! And steep!

We started out in dirt and hiked for a couple miles before we hit snow consistently. It became deep quickly!! Lots of post holing up to the knee! Slipping and sliding even with microspikes. We spend so much energy trying to maintain forward movement it was tiring!

The new trail just seemed to go on forever. We really weren’t able to follow any real trail once we started to climb. We were just meandering through the trees looking for other footprints.

We passed a lost lizard that was stuck in a deep footprint. He couldn’t get out and was so lethargic. Todd moved him over to the dirt so hopefully he survived. He wasn’t the only crazy being out there! We actually got passed by 3 trail runners! Yes running up a snow covered mountain in spikes! And short shorts!!! He must have been freezing!! His skinny legs were so red! It made me cold!

We stopped along the tree line to grab some lunch. I was starving and was quickly coming to terms with the fact that I had not properly fueled for this hike. Too much energy spent and not enough in reserves. It was depleting fast. The spot was stopped T was calm and sheltered but it felt like the temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees. Both of us noticed the temp drop as we quickly put on our puffy jackets and heavier gloves.

After lunch we kept moving on. It felt like we were walking on a treadmill. Consistently moving but going nowhere! We finally made it over and out one ridge and headed to another when we finally saw another group of hikers! We found out we were fairly close to the summit. Just a bit more climbing and we came into a clearing and false summit. The weather was all clouded in so we had no view. I had reached the “wall”! I knew I was on empty and I was well aware that I had 4-5 miles to go down to get back to the parking lot and the trail down was steep and required good concentration. Todd hiked up to the actual summit and I stayed at the false one. Ate a bit more and got more fluids in me.

The route down was sloppy. The snow was not in good condition which made going downhill difficult. Losing traction was a frequent occurrence! We finally made it out of the snow and onto the dirt trail which was quite slick due to wet exposed tree roots. We passed a group that had an injured hiked. Search and rescue was on their way up to help her down. I swear we passed at least 30 SAR personnel on their way up. We later learned it took them over 10 hours to get her down. SAR is all volunteer!!! Great work they do!

The falls were stunning as usual! It was a nice break from the concentration needed from the huge step-downs on this trail. Going down this trail was not a smart idea!

Walking back into the parking lot I’ve never been so happy to see my truck. I’ll do that hike again! Next time I’ll make sure I fuel and hydrate appropriately beforehand!!

A little desert hiking at Ancient Lakes

The spring in Washington can be a tad bit dreary and wet. After a long overcast winter we are all in need of a bit of sunshine. The daffodils and tulips are out so we know summer is coming! We decided to head to Eastern Washington to hold off the development of web feet!!

Luckily in Washington we have pretty much every a bit of everything within a couple hour drive. Mountains, coastline, desert or rain forests. Doesn’t get much better than this!

Ancient Lakes is outside a small town in Eastern Washington named Quincy. Because of its location and weather patterns it hosts a large number of server farms and agricultural farms. Once you get out of the mountains the landscape changes noticeably. Moving from lush green evergreen to dry dirt/sand and sparse trees. Not only is the temperature change noticeable but the air type changes too.

I’m going to guess there are dozens of trails in Ancient Lakes along with dozens of lakes. We hiked on April 14 so the weather was in the 70’s and boy did that feel good! We saw several waterfalls and lakes of all sizes. Quite a few people were backpacking and we saw many people horseback riding as well. We hiked through the flatlands and made it up to the ridge line where we could see for miles! Across the Columbia river we could see he wind turbines all along the hillside. From the ridge line we wanted to head to the Columbia then circle back to the parking lot. I bet we spend 30 minutes trying to figure out how to get there! Phone gps is awesome but the screen is so small it made it a bit difficult to orient to where you really were and how far away the trail connection was. The trail along the ridge was difficult to see and for the most part absent. We had a rough idea where we were headed to we headed off in that direction. After about 20 minutes we were able to find the obvious trail and that took us back to the parking lot.

No ticks found which was awesome! This is a great spring hike! I could imagine in the summer it would be quite hot and not so much of a fun hike. I would like to add this hike to a backpacking list though!

Mailbox Peak version Two

Well how the heck did that happen??? I’m pretty sure I swore after hiking Mailbox last summer that I would never and I mean never do that again!! Pain fades with time? I’d lost my mind? What kind of explanation would get me back up a 2.5 mike hike straight up 4,000 feet of mountain?? Good thing you asked!

February 26 I was lucky enough to grab two permits to climb Mt St Helens on June 18!!!! OMG!! So anxiously excited for that!! So let’s see that 10 miles round trip and about 4,000 feet elevation game. Better start training! What’s on the list? Mt Teneriffe! Mt Si! And you guessed it Mailbox Peak!! So…..

I knew Todd hadn’t hiked Mailbox before and the weather seemed to be ok for the weekend. It looked like we would have some fairly heavy cloud cover so that meant to views at the top. All that hard work and no view. Bummer!!

We set out to leave at 7. There was the usual valley fog hanging around but we could clearly see deep blue skies above! The closer we got along I-90 the fog was gone, the sun was out and we knew the day was going to be pretty weather perfect!

The lower lot was full and the upper lot about 50% full. Surprisingly not as busy as I was expecting. We planned to hike up the old trail and down the new trail. I know the new trail is noticeably longer but I thought the old trail would be harder on the knees and quite a bit more slippery with the trail conditions.

We made it up the first mile in 45 minutes. I was feeling pretty good about that as a training program for Mt St Helens says pace of 1,000 feel elevation in an hour. Good start! At this point there was consistently more snow and ice on the trail so we decided to put on our microspikes. The trail looks so much different with snow than it does in summer. As we gained elevation the snow became much deeper with it consistently being around knee deep.

I told Todd about the sections of the trial. First part being the forest. Second section being the hike through and up the boulder field. Third the push to the mailbox and finally the hike back to the truck!

Todd hikes uphill faster than I do so I wasn’t surprised that he did so here as well. He did comment a few times on how unrelenting the climb is. No switchbacks. Just straight up for 2.5 miles! I think it even kicked his butt a bit!

For some reason this time the first seemed to go on forever! Maybe I had just blocked it out from the previous time. It just seemed like we would never get out in the open. After what felt like eternity we finally emerged just before the boulder field. We got a glimpse of Mt Rainier. Our only glimpse of the day! It was pretty spectacular!

The boulder field was so impressive! Covered in a deep layer of snow! You couldn’t see any of the rock steps which made it less intimidating. You just had to follow this deep path in the snow. So cool! At the top of the boulder field the trees were covered in this thick pure white snow. You can see which way the wind blows as one side of the trees were only green. They looked like flocked Christmas trees. Only without the ornaments and tinsel!

At this point your calves are on fire and the quads are tired. So close! You can see people standing at the mailbox but it seems like it’s taking forever to get there. 10 steps and rest for a few seconds. Repeat. We finally made it to the top. 3.5 hours. Not bad for the conditions. The snow was almost all the way up to the bottom of the mailbox. I was telling Todd I’m the summer the mailbox is actually waist high! So I’m guessing we had about 3 feet of snow on the top!

The views were pretty spectacular. There is something about deep blue skies offset by pure white perfect snow! Gorgeous!! We could see quite a few heavy dark clouds around Mt Rainier so I assume it was snowing there.

We took the requisite photos of the views and the mailbox. Chatted with some other hikers. One thing I love about hiking, besides just being in the outdoors, is how friendly everyone is. You chat with strangers like you’ve been friends for years!

Now it was time to hand back down. The sun had been out all day so the snow was starting to melt and get slushy and slippery. With how steep it is coming down from the top and across the boulder field we wanted to make sure we could do it safely. We saw several people sliding and falling. Even a guy who bent his trekking pole when it got caught coming through the boulder field. That’s a bad place to fall and have an injury. By this time we could see some rocks poking through so slow and steady was the pace!

Once we made it past the boulder field the trail returned to a winter wonderland! We even got to glissade on a section of the trail! The new trail was stunning! Deep snow through the forest. The legs were a bit tired but feeling pretty good. I like to ease of the new trail coming down but I don’t like how long it is! It seems like it will never end!!! It took us 3 hours to get back to the truck. Tired legs and all!!

I have to admit although I was tired, this time felt way better than the first time. It wasn’t 85 degrees! I had enough water! The views were equally amazing! I’m feeling a bit better about Mailbox now. I’m out of the never doing that again phase and I’ve moved on to a love-hate relationship. It’s a grind! A worthy hike though!

Until next time Mailbox!!

Mt Rainier is for all seasons!

We are so lucky to have such a spectacular national park in our backyard. Every season brings unique opportunities, sights and adventures. Winter after a fresh snowfall is downright magical!!

Having a Monday off meant a lot less traffic on the road for the nearly 3 hour drive to Longmire. We had plans to meet up with one of our hiking groups but missed them due to a car that slid off the road and needed a tow. The fresh powder was calling our name so Tami and I decided we would still head out on the trail from Narada Falls to Reflection Lake. There was at least a foot of fresh powder. The trail was well outlined and the snow covered trees were beautiful. There is something about snowshoeing through a forest that is blanketed with deep snow. It’s so quiet and peaceful.

The trail is a gentle slope through the forest and out to a saddle where you have to options. We opted for the most direct route as it was well traveled. The ceiling was pretty low so we actually never saw Mt Rainier. It was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day but that didn’t materialize until early evening and we had already left. We saw some pretty cool icicles hanging off buildings and rocks. Light snow fell for pretty much the whole time we were out.

I’ve never been to Reflection Lake in the winter so I wasn’t really sure what it would look like. It’s amazing in the summer at sunrise and sunset. I kinda figured it would be at least partly frozen but it was completely covered in snow. No reflection! Well maybe a Reflection of the Sky because both were perfectly white!

We decided to each our lunch at the lake and were immediately surrounded by lots of grey jays and a stellar jay. They sat in trees around us. Landed in the snow. Flew to our trekking poles and then sat on the poles, our shoulders and heads! By far the most friendly I have seen them even to the point of being somewhat aggressive. They would dive bomb trying to steal food out of your hand while you were just trying to get your hand to your mouth! After a few minutes we decided we better move on and head back to the truck.

The trip back was a bit chilly as the wind was starting to pick up. Surprisingly we only ran into a few people on the trail but everyone was very friendly as usual!

We are having such great powder this year! It’s so pretty and just makes you want to be out even more!!

On to the next adventure!!

Snowshoeing is so much fun!!!

I’ve been unable to hike for the last two months due to surgery recovery. Recently my doctor said I could start exercising so of course planning a snowshoe outing was my first idea!! I’ve heard snowshoeing is a bit more tiring than regular hiking so I didn’t want to do anything to long or strenuous. I was a bit nervous about my backpack waist strap running on my incisions as I know that does not feel very good! I decided to wear my 36 Osprey instead of my 22 and this was a good decision!

Last week the weather forecast looked pretty decent calling for a few inches of new snow overnight and snow during the day. That sounded perfect! Well in Washington the forecast is unpredictable and of course it changes from snow to rain due to a hanging high pressure system off the coast. That meant the last few days have been rain and no new snow. ūüė©. That makes for not so good snow conditions. We decided to head out anyways as we all have been missing our mountain adventures!

Skyline Lake Trail is located at Stevens Pass. It’s under 4 miles and about 1,100 feet elevation. Perfect for my first post surgery adventure. We arrived at 8 and the parking lot was starting to fill up. We saw about 30-40 other snowshoers in the lot and quickly learned they were all there for snowshoe intro classes.

I brought 3 different layered jackets with me because I wasn’t sure about how much rain or wind there would be. It was chilly in the lot from the wind so I put on my two heavier jackets. The parking lot was crazy icy but we made it to the trail without falling! Put on our snowshoes and headed out. Five minutes in I had to take off my outer jacket because I was clearly going to be too warm. I was good entertainment for Todd with all my wardrobe changes with jackets and gloves.

I have to admit I was a bit surprised by the climb. My legs felt good but my lungs are out of shape from taking a few months off. I took a few short breaks to catch my breath but I didn’t want to stop too long. Tried to step backwards and that didn’t go so well! Fell like a tall tree when my Showshoe tail got stuck in the snow!

The trail was in great shape. I was expecting it to be sloppy from the rain or really crusty from the re-freeze. The snow was pretty soft and the trail was wide enough to walk comfortably. The weather held out for us with just a little bit of wind and light rain. The ceiling was pretty low so not much visibility at the lake.

We made a shelf for us to stop and eat lunch. Broke out my shelter! Even though Todd gave me crap about the amount of stuff I carry it sure came in handy!!ūüėĚ. A couple grey jays came to visit and stare at us. They flew in and took up temporary residence on Tami’s trekking poles. They were pretty good sized all fluffed out in a winter coat! They are so darn cute! The lake is frozen and covered with snow so it was hard to tell how big it is. Another hiker walked by us and told us we were clearly having the best time of anyone! Apparently we were laughing so loud they could hear us across the lake.

We headed back down on an alternate trail. It was a bit steeper but less traveled. Tami took a video of the area and ended up taking a video of herself falling!! We are an entertaining bunch!

We all made it safely back to the truck. We all love snowshoeing!! Can’t wait to go again!!!

The journey of a cancer survivor

Cancer has permeated the lives of many in my family. ¬†Although most were diagnosed in their later stages of life, that is not true for both my sister and I. ¬†My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer originally when she was only 31 years old. ¬†Back then, roughly 30 years ago, the treatments were not as good as they are today and the options were very small. ¬†After her initial diagnosis she had almost 10 years before her reoccurrence. ¬†That “metastatic cancer” term owned the last few years of her life, before she died at the age of 46. ¬†My last picture of my sister and I is at the Race for a Cure. ¬†I remember watching her as she took part in the survivor photo. ¬†I’ve participated in the Race for a Cure for years, but I won’t participate in the survivor photo. ¬†It’s like a weird superstition for me. ¬†I’ve walked in the 3 day 3 or 4 times. ¬†I was asked to be a flag bearer for them. ¬†Pretty cool.

I’ve always been really open about my entire journey. ¬†I talked with friends who since have had their own diagnosis or a family member or friend. ¬†I realized during all my surgeries and treatments that there is a lot that you aren’t told, that I wish I had been told. ¬†So I figured if I could help someone else out, then I’m in. ¬†Over time, I’ve also learned it’s important to see people years out of treatment to give help and perspective. ¬†Some days you just try to make it through that day. ¬†I’m proof of the future.

I have always been the active one of the family. ¬†Good health with no major issues. ¬†Well that was until January 2007. ¬†I had been to the doctor in December because I could feel something odd just under my skin. ¬†They sent me in for the usual mammogram which came up negative. ¬†I knew it wasn’t right so I pushed them for other testing. ¬†On to an ultrasound and a biopsy.

I was at work when the doctor’s office called. ¬†I’m confident we talked on the phone for about 10 minutes as I had written a list of doctor appointments down on a piece of paper. ¬†I don’t remember any of that call after he said “I’m sorry to tell you this but you have invasive ductal carcinoma.” ¬†Weird how you fixate on certain words and then your mind just shuts off. ¬† Code black! ¬†I’ve learned plenty about that at work but this certainly was a different application with the same outcome. ¬†Honestly only two things went through my mind. ¬†The first was how was I going to tell my parents. ¬†They had already buried one child. ¬†I was panicked they would have to bury another. ¬†The second thought was my kids. ¬†They were so small, only 2 & 5 years old. ¬†What would this do to them? ¬†What would they remember about this journey? ¬†Would they remember me? ¬†I’ve always been a pretty confident and driven person but those 12 words rocked me to my core. ¬†The tornado was just beginning and it lasted for 18 months.

The next five months is a total blur. ¬†My life was controlled by doctor appointments, surgeries and chemotherapy appointments. ¬†As the sole income provider for my family, not working was not an option! ¬†Although difficult at times, it did provide a sense of normalcy in having a routine I recognized. ¬†I found out I have the BRCA 1 gene, which makes me at much higher risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. ¬†I’m sure my sister had it as well. ¬†That gene carries risks for all the women in my family. ¬†The oncologist told me all the options available and their impacts on my rate of reoccurrence. ¬†I wanted no part of this to begin with so I certainly wanted no part of a reoccurrence so I took the most aggressive surgeries and treatments. ¬†I was mad at the world. ¬†First surgery was a bilateral mastectomy. ¬†That alone cut my reoccurrence rate to under 5%. ¬†That’s a crazy surgery! ¬†No getting around it. ¬†I had drains after. ¬†Couldn’t get out of bed by myself. ¬†Couldn’t lift my arms. ¬†The big part is they don’t tell you that your chest is concave after. ¬†It’s not flat. ¬†Nothing near. ¬†About 5 months later I had surgery to take my ovaries out because that is a silent but deadly cancer. ¬†No real detection protocol until it’s too late. ¬†Chemo puts you into menopause anyways so at this point they were just unnecessary. ¬†Adding chemo to the mix dropped my rate down to less than 2%. ¬†I didn’t have radiation.

In between those surgeries was 4 months of chemotherapy. ¬†4 treatments that were 3 weeks apart. ¬†I had the A and C treatments. ¬†It’s called the “red devil”. ¬†They aren’t kidding! ¬†I show up for my first treatment. ¬†I had a port placed in my chest so the chemo wouldn’t blow out the veins in my arms. ¬†I’m just kicked back waiting for the oncology nurse to arrive, when this lady walks in wearing the most PPE equipment I’ve ever seen. You’d think I was in a nuclear lab. ¬†I’m just in regular street clothes. ¬†No PPE for me!! ¬†She has on what can best be described as a space suit. ¬†Two gowns, 2 pairs gloves, face shield, etc. ¬†Nothing visible of her. ¬†I asked why she was wearing all that and she said “because this stuff is so toxic it can’t touch our skin.” ¬†Can’t touch your skin??? ¬†Are you kidding me? ¬†You are getting ready to inject this into my vein, which runs right by my heart and drown my insides with this crap but it’s too toxic for your skin. ¬†How about for my body?? ¬†Crazy stuff! First round takes about 2 hours and we head home. I’m actually feeling okay but starving. ¬†We stop at Trader Joe’s so I can get some hummus and flatbread. Go home and wait. ¬†The next day I feel like I’m getting the flu. ¬†By day 3 I’m down for the count. ¬†I’m have zero white blood cells so I have to go to the doctor’s office for a shot. As my treatments progressed these shots went from weekly to daily. ¬†I was told I would lose my hair. ¬†Over the course of 3 days I go from losing 5 hairs in the shower, to 50, to 500. ¬†It comes out in clumps which results in huge bald spots on my head. ¬†Not cool! ¬†I decide to let my kids shave my head. ¬†They think it’s pretty funny. I keep a mohawk for one last day and go to work! ¬†During my treatments I was off work for 1 1/2 weeks (because I was sick and had zero white blood cells) then at work for the last 1 1/2 weeks before my next treatment. ¬†My down time got progressively longer after each treatment. ¬†Only a couple days for the first one. ¬†Almost 2 weeks after my last one. ¬†It is a level of sickness that is hard to describe. ¬†I took a $300 anti nausea pill the day before each treatment and another one an hour before each treatment. ¬†Nope insurance doesn’t cover those! ¬†For the next 5 months I took a regular anti nausea pill every 4 hours. ¬†Never threw up, but I have never felt so horrible in my life. ¬†It’s like the flu times 1,000. ¬†Never ending, no breather, can’t sleep, do not want to eat. ¬†Everything tastes terrible. It’s like you are chewing aluminum foil. ¬†For some reason I developed an insatiable appetite or chocolate though. ¬†I could eat 6 Hershey bars in a day or a couple dozen chocolate chips cookies! ¬†Crazy but so good! ¬†(I still eat chocolate every day, just not 6 Hershey bars worth!) It takes you to the lowest of lows. ¬†I can admit I wanted to quit. ¬†Stopping treatment just seemed so much easier. ¬†If that meant I would die that was okay. ¬†It’s a terrible thing to say and an even worse feeling but it’s real. ¬†People don’t understand. ¬†They try, but they just don’t. ¬†I belong to a club where we share different experiences but we have a ¬†common bond. ¬†We know. We’ve been there to that deep dark place.

I tried to live as normal of a ¬†life as I could. ¬†I needed it. ¬†My kids needed it. I had 2 life changing experiences during my treatment that changed me on a dime. ¬†They both brought perspective. ¬†It’s easy to lose perspective because sometimes you just get swallowed up by trying to survive that you forget to breathe.

#1 During my third treatment I was not feeling good at all. ¬†I was struggling physically, emotionally and mentally. ¬†I was at the end of what I could take. ¬†I was mad. ¬†At everything and I knew it. ¬†Normally during chemo treatments you have your own room because each person’s treatment is different and the infusion lasts for different lengths of time. ¬†On this occasion I was in a room with another patient. He was 24 and getting a low dose chemo. ¬†We were together for a couple hours so we started talking. ¬†I was whining and complaining about how much this sucked. ¬†He told me his story. ¬†He was so matter of fact. ¬†He had some back problems and was prescribed Oxy. ¬†He became addicted and his life was out of control. ¬†He met this girl and they decided to get married. ¬†He wanted to change his life so he decided to get clean but the back pain didn’t go away. ¬†After running many tests they discovered he had stage 4 colon cancer. ¬†His tumor was huge and inoperable and he could not tolerate full dose chemo so he came in daily for a low dose. ¬†He was given 6 months to live. ¬†24 years old and newly married. ¬†His whole life in front of him that he would never see. ¬†He was going to make that the happiest 6 months of his life. ¬†Perspective! ¬†I was 42 at the time, married and had 2 kids. ¬†I had been in a career I love for over 20 years. ¬†I’d seen and done so much, but I was whining and complaining because life wasn’t fair. ¬†Nope, life wasn’t fair. ¬†I was sitting next to a 24 year old kid who wouldn’t live to see 25. ¬†That life wasn’t fair.

#2 ¬†I was eating lunch at the Barking Frog restaurant in Woodinville after all my treatments were done but I was still bald. ¬†It was a beautiful sunny day. ¬†We were sitting next to a table with some obnoxious drunk people and I got up to go to the restroom. ¬†Apparently I was the talk of the table after I left! ¬†This was the summer Brittany Spears shaved her head. ¬†This group was going on and on about not understanding why it was so trending for people (me) to shave their heads just because Brittany Spears did it! ¬†Perspective!! ¬†I didn’t look like a cancer patient! ¬†It didn’t cross their mind. ¬†I had cancer but it didn’t define me.

A lot has happened over the past 11 years. ¬†Being able to say 11 years cancer free is awesome! ¬†I’ve gotten to a point now where I’ve stopped counting. ¬†Looking back I wish I’d had some more information to help me determine my path forward. ¬†Doctors are great but they are focused on the clinical aspects and not the people aspects. ¬†Some of the pointers I wish I knew back then are:

  1. ¬†Don’t eat anything you like right before or after your chemo treatment. ¬†You will ¬†NEVER eat it again!! ¬†Eleven years later I can barely look at hummus and flatbread without my mouth watering because it makes my nauseous.
  2. Your head freezes and does not like anything touching it!  Had to wear a hat at night to stay warm.
  3. These treatments and appointments screw with your mind! ¬†It brings on serious PTSD. ¬†The anxiety you feel around blood tests and scans is relentless. ¬†It’s such a level of panic that you are going to hear the C word again. ¬†Even 11 years later, with my latest surgery they did a tissue screening without my knowledge (thank god) but when I saw the word “pathology” on my paperwork, it immediately brought on that intense level of anxiety until I saw the words “no evidence of metastatic cancer”.
  4. Live your life–Tomorrow is never guaranteed. ¬†Do everything you’ve always wanted to do. ¬†Try things that are outside your comfort zone. ¬†Don’t sweat the small stuff. ¬†It’s not worth the time. ¬†Let the BS and drama go. ¬†That’s their problem and don’t make it yours! ¬†Smile and laugh!

So here I sit 11 years later. ¬†Had another surgery 2 months ago. ¬†This is a two part surgery (last part at the end of February but it’s out patient) but it will be my last! ¬†YAY!! ¬†It’s called DIEP Flap. ¬†It’s a crazy cool surgery. ¬†I’ll let you google it and spare you the details except for the photo of my abdomen incision!

I’ve found over my journey there are a few things that just center me and make me feel at home. ¬†The first is water. ¬†This is my first home. ¬†I spent most of my childhood on a boat. ¬†It has significance to me in that it reminds me of years of great memories with my family and it just soothes my soul. ¬†Water will always hold a sacred place in my life. ¬†The second is my love of the outdoors. ¬†I could hike everyday. ¬†The old saying “the mountain is calling and I must go” so applies to me. ¬†I love the peace of the outdoors, the smells and sounds. ¬†It’s hard work to climb to the top of a trail, but the effort is all mine and feeling at the end is the bonus. ¬†It’s part of why I started this blog.

This has been a tough two months for me while I’ve been recovering. ¬†I’ve been grounded by my doctor and not allowed to exercise. ¬†I’m finally allowed to head back out to the mountains! ¬†Fresh powder, clean air and good friends! ¬†I’m alive!

I’ve always been a big Kenny Chesney fan and he has a song that is my life.

I’m Alive

So damn easy to say that life’s so hard

Everybody’s got their share of battle scars

As for me, I’d like to thank my lucky stars that I’m alive, and well

 

It’d be easy to add up all the pain

And all the dreams you sat and watched go up in flames

Dwell on the wreckage as it smolders in the rain

But not me….I’m alive

 

And today you know that’s good enough for me

Breathin’ in and out’s a blessing can’t you see

Today’s the first day of the rest of my life and i’m alive

And well…I’m alive and well

 

The stars and dancing’ on the water here tonight

It’s good for the should when there’s not a should in sight

This boat has caught it’s wind and bright me back to life

now I’m alive and well

 

Life is all about perspective.  Live it!

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