Since I know some of you are waiting patiently, let me start with the most important update of the day.
We just wrapped up a meeting with Dr. McGaughey. Here are the takeaways:
- STABLE! For the most part. The vast majority of my disease is still being kept at bay with the current treatment regimen. There are even a few spots where our prayers for eradication may be chipping away at the overall disease. I will continue on this course of treatment through Round 13+.
- HOWEVER! There is a problem area. We’ve been keeping an eye on this spot in my lower right abdomen for some time. Though it still has not grown drastically in size (we’re talking less than a cm), Dr. McGaughey has suggested blasting this demogorgon with radiation. We have an appointment scheduled with Dr. Jones on 11/15 to discuss what that will look like, but right now we expect to begin that treatment sometime after Thanksgiving.
Now that I’ve gotten our “business” out of the way, I’d like to switch gears to the real reason I volunteered for Caring Bridge responsibilities today.
It’s been nearly five months since I returned from my First Descents trip, and up to this point, I have remained radio silent about what I might describe as one of the best weeks of my life. At first, I needed time to process. Then as we got further and further from June, it became challenging to prioritize a post. When Tanya offered to host a Yoga class in support of First Descents, I realized it was time to open up about my experience and share why this program means so much to me.
For those of you who aren't familiar, First Descents is a non-profit organization based in Denver that provides free life-changing outdoor adventures for young adult cancer survivors. Because of FD, I was able to spend one-week rock climbing in Keene, NY with a group of eight other young adult cancer survivors.
I went into “Cancer Camp” with modest expectations. It's no secret that I've been blessed with the most incredible army of supporters. I didn’t know what to think about a week of forced interactions with strangers (my “I” is showing, I know) or about a week of rock climbing (I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” of heights). But I was excited by the prospect of a free week away in the mountains. I have found so much comfort in the grandeur of Shenandoah since February.
Within minutes of getting off my plane and waiting nervously at our designated pick-up location, I was approached by an impossibly cool and simultaneously kind and funny girl named Ashley Hawk. Not long after that, I would meet my roomie for the week, Luna, who is inspiring to me in more ways than one. And soon we would be greeted by an amazing staff from all different walks of life who selflessly gave their time to help us squeeze every drop of joy/happy/sadness/love out of the week. My social anxiety quickly faded.
As it turns out, those “forced interactions with strangers” felt a lot more like a natural gravitation toward friends and family who understood what was in my heart and on my mind. Shout out Luna, Nutter, Action, Hawk, Braver, Eze, Sprocket, Sassy , Sleeper... and everyone else who made this adventure feel much more like a trip home than a free week in the mountains.
Ironically, the rock climbing that made me so nervous going into camp was dwarfed in comparison the actual climbs in Keene. But one of the things that has stuck with me the most is FD’s “Challenge by Choice” philosophy. Through Challenge by Choice, the FD staff encourages campers to go beyond their perceived limitations while still listening to their bodies. It’s their way of motivating campers to fully embrace their experience.
More than once that week I felt myself doubting my ability to complete a climb. In fact, I would say I was plagued with this mindset each day we went out. And yet, I completed them all, including a 700+ ft, multi-pitch climb during our last day on the crag. By the end of the trip, I was still absolutely terrified, but I also regained confidence; reclaimed independence; and rediscovered what it felt like to do something healthy with a body that betrayed me. Had I chosen to sit it out when I got uncomfortable, I couldn’t have taken these souvenirs home. Or what if I had chosen not to apply to FD at all because of my unfocused anxiety? It’s a scenario I don’t want to envision, partially because FD informs the way I live my life to this day.
Through Caring Bridge, my dad does a great job keeping the crew apprised of my emotional status. I think those who have spent time with me can attest, he’s not blowing smoke when he articulates my determination to live in raw nerve moments (RNMs) and to maintain a grateful attitude throughout my journey. Trouble is, one of the consequences of living in this perspective is a constant and intentional awareness of my illness. While I am usually able to direct my attention to the positive effects of my diagnosis (a post for another day), there are moments I simply feel overwhelmed by indefinite treatments, ambiguous results, and uncertain outcomes. When I get to that place, it can be a challenge to shake myself out of it.
But here’s the thing. I am not choosing to live “raw” because it is the easiest way to deal with my diagnosis. Is it possible I could have kept working a 9-5 job, spent time away from my family, and continued chasing a paycheck? Sure. I would be uncomfortable, partially-engaged, and in a better place financially. Could I choose to focus on getting back to my old life instead of living intentionally in this moment? Absolutely. I’m sure there is comfort to be found in maintaining some level of “normalcy” through it all. But I’m not seeking normalcy. I’m seeking adventure. I’m seeking pure, unadulterated emotion. I’m seeking gratitude. I’m seeking fear and the rush of overcoming it. I’m seeking joy. I’m seeking the happiest days of my life, because I really believe I have yet to live them.
In seeking these things, I’m making myself vulnerable to some painful RNMs, too. But I chose this (and continue to choose this every single day), because it means I am feeling.
It’s my challenge by choice.
With love and determination,
P.S. Thanks so much to Tanya and others like her who make these authentically life-changing experiences available to young adults like me.