Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tomorrow is "Graduation Day." And the day I need you to have my back.

I'll fill you in on what's happened here on First Descents between Day 1 and today, but I have a request.

As you have read in my recount of Day 1, I'm facing fears that have been lifelong out here. Tomorrow is our "Graduation Day," which means attacking rocks beyond our imagination. And here's the catch - while everyone else on the trip has successfully been able to climb every route set up by our guides, I've only been able to do 2 1/2 at best. And, to do that, I had to obsessively climb and reclimb them, and 2 of them were set up just for me.

That's not going to happen tomorrow and I'm terrified. And I refuse to cry again. (I cried during yoga today.)

I need you to give me a boost. This isn't a ploy, this is the real deal. I need that push from familiar people - people who know me by my real name - to keep me going tomorrow. This is what we're climbing, and rappelling, down.

Castle Rock, Boulder Canyon, CO
As anyone who knows me knows, I have a fear of heights. I am a bit of a control freak. And I'm not naturally built for climbing. To date, I have only climbed things as high as the tree you see in the front. This is free-climbing, and rappelling down almost 3 times that. The others in the group have climbed far more advanced rocks than me.

I feel like a newly licensed driver being thrown into a race on the Autobahn with seasoned pros.

Please, show your support and consider making a donation to my LIVESTRONG Challenge account. Any amount helps. HTTP://LAF.CONVIO.NET/GOTO/RICAROCKSAUSTIN2012

First Descents Days 1

If anyone is wondering why I'm not online much, nor answering my cell phone, it's because I'm in Colorado climbing the Rocky Mountains. No, you didn't misread, I'm climbing the Rocky Mountains. I'm participating in an adventure trip for fellow cancer survivors called "First Descents." My friend, Tal, kept raving about this organization, and I think he would have boiled my kitty if I didn't ultimately go. (He's not a demanding kind of guy, but this he was pretty stern about.)

Saturday morning I boarded the flight and landed in Colorado a few hours later (during which I completed the entire first book of The Hunger Games and started Catching Fire once I got to Dallas). When I arrived in Denver, I followed the directions towards Baggage Claim where I was supposed to meet the First Descents crew. Instead, I wandered around in circles, eyes enlarged, completely lost. I had no idea where to go. An unfamiliar number called my cell, but I ignored it - I didn't have a clue. All of a sudden, I hear people calling and I look up - there is the First Descents sign. I head up to where they were bunked out, but I soon had to "Hit & Run" (which became my camp nickname - we don't go by first names - not yet), and catch up with my friend & fellow LIVESTRONG Leader, Erik Pearson, and his wife, Lynne. Erik was at the US Pro Challenge, so I didn't get a chance to see him right away (and I was quite jealous, as he was hanging with Chris Horner, possibly the chillest pro cyclist I know!). His wife picked me up, and we went to her dad's home, into which she & Erik are moving, and headed out to lunch with her sister, brother-in-law and waited for Erik and his son to join us.

Once we were all in one place, and we were regaled with tales of the US Pro Challenge, we piled into the car and headed out to Estes Park. Our destination was, first, to hit the Stanley Hotel, the most haunted hotel in the country and the inspiration for The Shining, and the remake with Steven Weber (the Nicholson/Kubrick original movie was actually filmed in Oregon). I got a couple of fantastic souvenirs (will reveal later - can't spoil the surprise!), had gelato, and took some obligatory photos. Then, we were off to Narrow Trail Ranch, our home for the next week.

Wow - what a place! This is a stunning 5-bedroom log cabin, with plenty of extra space for more beds to be set up to accomodate all of us "campers" and staffers. The kitchen is a tremendous chef's kitchen, an amazing set of decks, including one that has a hot tub, a fireplace, etc. One of my fellow campers and I share the loft - I'm sofa-couching it, but I'm happy! This place is palatial. We had a meet & greet over "Happy Hour" and then a splendid dinner of tacos - fillings included all kinds of vegetables, bison, homemade guacamole, and this incredible green rice. After dinner, we chilled out, we all got to know each other and then got to bed.

The next morning, I got up very early (as, apparently, many East Coasters do), and I helped Antelope Jamboree & Chamomile, our cooks/camp mom, make stuffed french toast. The group filled up on breakfast and headed to Mary's Lake for our first climbing outing.

The night before, the 13 of us shared that most everyone, but me, had climbing experience. I really had none. I'd gone bouldering locally years ago, but that was about it. So when I saw what was being set up for us to climb, the fear built up. The "easy" climb had a large, round piece of rock jutting out of the side. I'm sorry, but I thought that sheer, flat rock was going to be tough, let alone rocks that were convex! I started to climb, but it was not happening. The panic of climbing set in. I was way over my head. Everyone else seemed to be flying up these rocks with very little struggle. I couldn't get higher than 4 feet in the ground.

Defeated, I went to as quiet, removed part of where we were as possible, pulled out Catching Fire, determined to finish reading it, which I did. Our camp dad, Two Dogs, came over to chit chat. While talking, I explained my hesitation. Not only was I afraid of heights, but I'd been out of commission, physically, for too long. I was stressed over the expectation of being affiliated with LIVESTRONG as a leader to be the one cancer survivor in the group who excelled in athletics despite teh disease and treatment, and that I felt lost because I couldn't meet those expectations. And the fact that I hate quitting, but it was too much.

I honestly felt that I was going to miserable all week - that I'd be sitting for hours on the ground watching everyone else, just as I had on Monday. I just wished that a guide had set up a real beginner rock to work on. I started to cry, once alone, as I saw that there was such demand iun the group that the guides set up additional climbs to keep up with everyone's pace while I sat, watching, without the ability to climb anything but in and out of the minivans.

Then, Little Bits came up and told me that he'd set up a climb just for me. It was on the same rock as the most advanced climb, plus, it had a tree. I was a bit intimidated, but he assured me it was easy. I harnessed up and I started climbing. And climbing, but he assured me it was easy. I harnessed up and I started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. I hear people shouting, "You go, Hit & Run!" "Kick that rock's ass, Hit & Run!" Little Bits told me to look down, and I did. I was high up in the air. Not a little, but a lot. And I was inches away from touching the caribiner in victory. When I reached up to that metal hook upon which my life-line was hooked, I couldn't believe it. I had climbed this rock. My confidence was up.

I came down and saw that everyone was charging back to the "beginner" rock. I followed suit and discovered that Spare Parts had set up some rappelling. I decided that I would go for it.

I go on belay again, and start my descent. I'm doing fine until I get to a roof. I cannot see anything below this rock. I cannot see where to set my foot. Panic sets in. Spare Parts keeps reassuring me that he has me. He tells me to just do it. At this point, all eyes are on me. And the hysteria sets in. I'm cursing at Spare Parts, screaming, crying, snot bubbles blowing out my nose because I realize that I'm trapped. I can't go up, I can't go down. My legs won't move. I'm shaking, I'm terrified, and I'm paralyzed with fear. I can't see where my feet should go. I don't trust the equipment. This guy who weighs as much as my thigh is literally holding my life in his hands, and I've got a big drop to go.

"Trust your feet" starts echoing through my head, the mantra my old friend, a climber, taught me when we were sixteen - that same friend who got me into cycling and that hasn't spoken to me for 2 years and won't because he can't get over his anger. This makes things worse - now, not only am I hanging over a precipice, but now I'm flooded with grief and longing for a friendship that is overdue for repair that I miss terribly. So now, I'm friend-sick, terrified of the drop, feeling out of control, weighing way too much than I should, with the harness digging into me leaving what I'm sure will be wicked welts. I'm low enough to the ground and far enough from the top that I really only have one choice - GO DOWN. I'm trapped. With all eyes on me, cheering me on. "GO HIT & RUN! You can do it!" I can't type out what I said because I'm too much of a lady, but let's just say that I threw curses at the man handing the rope keeping me from falling - probably not the wisest move - and throwing profanities that would shock Robin Williams.

Then, there's a scramble at the top. Two of my caribiners clack together and there's a shift. I feel a small rock fall on me. I start panicking even more, but Spare Parts explains it was just the rope adjusting, nothing was falling, it was ok. He was cool as a cucumber (earning him the second nickname "Ice Man"). Another guide, Little Bits, rushes over with another rope and some gear. I just close my eyes, now shaking because my arms are so tired and my hands are burned from holding the rope in a death grip. Next thing I know, Little Bits is next to me, with his leg below mine guiding me below the roof. All of a sudden I feel rock beneath my toes. Slowly, we go down together and I make it to the ground.

I have no other reaction but to laugh hysterically. And I start cracking jokes.

I did it. I was done for the day.

After that, we went back to dinner and our campfire. I was floored that so many folks brought up my breakdown as their favorite moment - not because of entertainment value - though it must have been quite spectacular - but because I conquered my fear.

I don't know how much of that was me conquering a fear, but just doing what I had to do. If it helps someone else, though, that's awesome.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Taking the bull**** by the horns...

Before anyone else asks, makes a snarky comment my way, etc, I'd like to first say before jumping to conclusions, please read Lance Armstrong's statement - not the summaries and editorials being published. Then, I'd suggest that you read the LIVESTRONG Blog Entry, including official statements.

I'll give you a few minutes to read that on your own. Here's some nice elevator music to bide the time.

Now that the interlude is over, and the prerequisite reading is complete, I'll continue.

  • The man is the most tested athlete in the history of drug testing. He's passed the tests.
  • Several of those on the USADA's public list of witnesses against Lance have lied, have doped, have a vested interest in testifying against Lance and have been threatened with similar actions. Not exactly an unbiased pool of witnesses.
  • The arbitration Lance faced was not a court hearing, or anything even close to it. Look at how the USADA handles these arbitrations. There is no defense, as many suspect he would be entitled to present as he would in a criminal case.
  • There is debate over whether or not the USADA even has the jurisdiction to execute the ban - how does the UCI factor into this?
  • Note Lance's statement, "USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles." Attempt. That doesn't mean it's going to happen. If the USADA "says so," does the UCI have to "do so?" I don't know. Neither do you, at this point.
  • All he's saying is that he's done fighting with the USADA. It's like fighting a brick wall. There's no point. It would be a waste of time and resources, etc. That's not an admission of guilt, it's an admission that it's an unjust situation, and that the fight is being set aside. That doesn't mean there isn't something else that can be done.
  • He's a father of 5 young children. He's fighting a war against cancer. The man's schedule is insane (I know - I've been privy to some of the events and a view into some of his schedule - it's crazy.) To add on a huge no-win battle against a private entity acting like judge & jury with a predetermined verdict is stupid. So, he's focusing his energy elsewhere... for now.
This is not a man who rolls over easily. This is not a man who "gives up." I doubt this is the last we'll hear about this or from him.

But for now, this is his strategy.

Can you blame him?

So, I will do for Lance what he did for me and my children last year as I faced cancer - stand by him.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My "new" daily grind compared to 1 year ago...

And it's not coffee.

I'm just a pill-popping chick.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My, how time flies...

Sometimes, it's weird how time flies.

Sunday, 1 year ago, I had my double mastectomy. 1 year and 2 days ago, I still had my breasts, nipples, normal sensation, etc. Now? I have foreign parts installed, tissue that's technically my own flesh and blood, but feel nothing, let alone hardly feel a part of me, and a strange numbing feeling in my chest.

I think Sunday, far more than my cancerversary, signaled that it's been a year since I felt "normal." Even knowing I had cancer in my body, I still felt whole. I still felt like myself. Once the scalpels invaded my skin, once parts of me were carved up and discarded, replaced by synthetic prosthesis, I became something... someone... else. I think the question still looms, who or what have I become?

The obvious response, given the context of this blog is, "SURVIVOR." But I'm not so sure about that. "Recoverer," yes. I recovered from surgery. I recovered from the infections.

But I didn't survive - at least, I'm not sure that I have. My breasts didn't survive. My hair didn't survive. My feelings and senses didn't survive. Most of the skin in my chest area survived.

My strength didn't survive. My cycling and athletics haven't survived... not yet. My ability to find ways to bounce back better than before hasn't surfaced, yet. I'm struggling to do it.

And I can't find a way to embrace the new boobs, yet. Perhaps if my nerve endings were still functional, I could. Or if everytime I flex a muscle, they didn't ripple and bounce around like a freakish body builder, I might be able to start. They still don't look like breasts.  One is larger than the other, one is fuller than the other, the horizontal scars are still visible, and have left some strange sculpting. They nipples still look like Frankenboob. Forget the cancer: If I had breasts like this before, I'd be seeking reconstruction.

By no means am I saying that Dr. Nordberg did a bad job - not at all! He did a great job, given what the task at hand was. The left side that is fuller and bigger is that way because of the scar tissue, etc - it was problematic from the beginning. The right side just settled the way that it did. And he's trying to fix things, but this is going to be a long time until it's close to where I envision being able to begin to accept them as being a part of me.

And my hair, oh, my hair. Yes, I'm not bald. But bald was a "cooler" look than what I have going on now. I look like a retarded Little Orphan Annie. Yes, it's great that I have the curls that I paid (well, my parents paid) for when I was in high school and didn't quite get. But they don't go anywhere. They curl in on themselves and don't grow down. It's like having a head of ingrown curly hairs. I touch my head and I feel a sheep, not my hair.

So, neither my breasts nor my hair feel like "me."

I don't know.

One year later, and I still feel so far away from really recovering, let alone surviving.

For my personal journey, the cancer was the easy part - it was caught before it caused any pain. Yes, I survived the cancer, I suppose. But what I'm really struggling to survive is the surgery, the treatment, the chemo, the after-effects, the recovery, the butchery.