It was physically and emotionally the hardest thing I had ever done. By far.
When my father died from complications with his cancer treatments in 2014 I started a journey of taking better care of myself, and it couldn't have come at a better time. At the time I weighed nearly 300 pounds and had just recently been diagnosed with hypertension and type 2 diabetes. The doctors put me on medication with instructions to go on a strict diet and exercise plan. But we all know how that goes. It's easy to say diet and exercise, but actually doing the work is quite another matter.
And that's when I went to work.
I started simple, by hiking Peaked Mountain in Monson, MA. The summit is just over 1200 feet, so it's an easy hike. Even still, in the beginning I was stopping several times along the way. Partially for the amazing views. But mostly because I was out of breath.
Then I started hiking Mount Holyoke in Hadley, MA. The summit isn't even at 1000 feet, but boy, there are several steep sections making it a much more challenging hike.
From there I started running. Well, perhaps a better turn of phrase would be "jogging slowly." One day I was jogging around the Salem Common and someone suggest that I should be careful that the wind doesn't pass me. Whether he was trying to be cute, funny, or discouraging didn't matter. I was a man motivated to be better tomorrow than he was yesterday. And that can only happen by doing the right things today.
When I thought I was ready for the challenge, I was horribly mistaken. The hike was physically and emotionally the hardest thing I have ever done.
Even with my previous three years of working out and the month of extra training, I was woefully unprepared for even just the first day of hours upon hour in the hot canyon.
There was a particular moment, a couple hours after passing through Phantom Ranch, that I stopped to sit down for a moment. I then turned to our guides and said:
I have to be honest. I'm operating at about 0% energy right now. But I'm encouraged to know that according to science I've only given about 40% of what I'm capable of giving. And since we're more than halfway there that means I'm going to make it. I don't know how, but I'm going to make it. And that's encouraging.
After putting one foot in front of the other over and over again we all finally made it to the North Rim. Everyone in the group was physically and emotionally drained. Settling into my sleeping bag that night I was nervous about going back into the Canyon the next day to hike back to the South Rim. I had severe leg cramps and wasn't even able to take off my own shoes that night because of the pain.
Despite the pain, I persevered. What helped me make it through was more than just physical endurance and determination. I remembered why I was really on that trip to begin with.
My father didn't die because of cancer. He died because of chemotherapy. It literally destroys the body. Had he done nothing at all he would perhaps still be alive today. Sure, the cancer would still be there waiting to claim him, but he could potentially still have be around for a few more laughs, a few more hugs, a few more I Love You's.
I can only imagine the pain that my father went through for those brief months that he underwent treatment. I imagine that the pain I felt traversing the Canyon for those two days pails in comparison to the pain he went through. Reminding me of that kept me going.
And reminding myself of why physical health is so important kept me going. We all have amazing gifts to share with this world, but we can only share them so long as we have a physical body. Remembering that got me through the Grand Canyon, and it's also what keeps me focused on staying physically fit.
For all of these reasons I've decided to continue climbing with Climb For Hope.
Unlike chemotherapy, which acts directly on cancerous tumors, immunotherapy empowers a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer by harnessing and enhancing it’s own natural healing ability by enabling it to recognize, target, and eliminate cancer cells throughout the body.
Because chemotherapy attacks all rapidly dividing cells that it locates, these attacks also occur on healthy cells resulting in side effects including hair loss, nausea, rashes, and diarrhea, among other more sever complications. In contrast, immunotherapy’s side effects usually stem from an overactive immune system, and can range from minor inflammation to major conditions that are more similar to autoimmune disorders.
While chemotherapy treatment effects only last as long as the drugs remain in the body, one of the most exciting and groundbreaking aspects of immunotherapy is that it can provide long-term protection against cancer, due to the immune system’s ability to recognize and remember what cancer cells look like. This “immune memory” is what makes the hope of permanent remissions possible, and also what makes immunotherapy a potentially universal answer to cancer.
Immunotherapy has already proved to be an effective treatment for patients with various types of cancers, even against types of cancer that have been historically resistant to chemotherapy, making it the most promising new cancer treatment approach since the 1940’s.
Sadly, after a four and one-half year battle, Jodi died on May 8, 2009. Today Climb For Hope carries on to honor her life in the spirit of the lessons she lived by, about being a good and decent person, always acting with integrity and grace, and always with words of support and encouragement. She measured her life by what she could do for others and never by what was taken from her.
Before she died, when the Climb For Hope Team returned from Kilimanjaro, Jodi remarked that they may not find something fast enough to save her, but she believed that her daughter Caroline would grow up in a world without breast cancer because of the hard work of all the Climb For Hope climbers.
Climb For Hope has already announced a number of upcoming trips for 2019 and 2020, and from July 14-16 I’ll personally be joining the Climb For Hope team to hike over 12,000 feet to summit Mt. Adams in Washington.
Please consider showing your support in these 3 ways:
Join us on an upcoming hike! Here are the upcoming dates:
Make a donation in any amount here. If you prefer to donate by mail, please write your check to Climb For Hope and mail to:
Climb For Hope
c/o Andrew Buerger
501 Hawthorne Rd.
Baltimore, MD 21210
Share this story with others who may be interested in supporting the worthy cause.
However you choose to show your support, together we can unite for the greater good of our fellow brothers and sisters.
Today I'm proud to say that with all of the physical activity I've been involved in over these past four years, I've lost 70 pounds and have completely reversed the diagnoses of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. I am completely off the medications and I'm well prepared to continue sharing my positive gifts with the world.
Now that's a sign of Hope :)
I'm a mirror (and so are you).