Five years ago, August 24, 2003, also on a Sunday, I was standing on top of Tumbledown Mountain in western Maine. Now, we are not talking Mount Everest here, so why should this be a such big deal? People climb mountains like that all the time, and in fact on that day there were dozens of folks that we encountered during the hike. But for me, it was a very big deal - it fulfilled a pledge that I'd made to myself more than a year previously and symbolized my victory over cancer. Here is a brief story about how that all transpired, using a note that I emailed to friends after the trip.
Here I am on top of Tumbledown Mountain in Maine, August 24, 2003 - about 8.5 months after finishing chemotherapy for lymphoma:
It was a beautiful day but extremely windy on top. A year before nearly to the day of this photo, I was in the hospital feeling about as ill as I can ever remember with what turned out to be temporary lung damage from bleomycin. Climbing this mountain with Mary and some exceptional friends was a goal that I set near the start of chemotherapy, so reaching the top was a very special moment for me. To me, it symbolized victory over cancer and a return to good health, and the power of friendship.
Before I got ill we had planned on climbing this mountain, in western Maine, with some great friends during the summer of 2002. With the lymphoma, that could not happen, but in July of that year, my climbing friends sent me a beautiful framed photo of the mountain for my birthday with a note on the back that we would still climb it together. Seeing the beauty of the picture, reading the note, appreciating the thought of “bringing the mountain to me”, and realizing that I would not be climbing it that year – and perhaps never - hit me in an extremely emotional way for some reason. I looked at the photo with tears pouring down my face, the only day I cried during my entire cancer saga.
We hung the photo in our kitchen and every day I looked at it. I resolved that by the summer of 2003, I would be well and strong enough to climb Tumbledown. And that is what happened! Even months after finishing the chemotherapy in early December, I was still not back to full strength, but I gradually got strong and healthy enough to make the trip up Tumbledown Mountain with our friends, even though I was a bit pokey at times. We are only talking maybe 8 or 9 miles, but to me it symbolized victory over cancer and a return to good health. Standing at the top looking out over the forests, mountains, and lakes of Western Maine was just an incredible feeling. Many thanks to Mary, Gordeen and Tom, Chip and Amy for climbing it with me on that August day. It meant more to me than I could ever express.
So if during my cancer year, if you paid me a visit, sent me a card or email, called me to talk, helped with chores around the house, visited me in the hospital, thought good thoughts about my recovery or said a prayer for me, then you helped me get up Tumbledown. If you gave me chemo drugs or mixed them for my treatment, provided oncology or medical services, did X-rays or CT scans, nursed me in the hospital, participated in surgery, conducted lab tests or pulmonary tests, then you too were on that hike with me to the top of the mountain. So to all of you, more thanks than I can express.
To expand upon what I wrote to friends back in 2003, this is a great hike. It is near Mount Blue State Park in Weld, and is very scenic. There is a beautiful high altitude pond near the top. Here is a photo of me near the top with the pond in the background.
After seeing the pond, Amy, Chip and I continued to the top. We had to hike down to the pond, losing quite a bit of elevation, then hiking steeply back uphill. I remember being really tired, and thinking that getting to the pond was enough. It was Amy who gave me the determination to keep going. She essentially said "you set this goal, you are so close. Why not keep going another 20 minutes and see how you feel?" So we kept going, and eventually got to one of the summits (there are two or three) where the photo at the beginning of this post was taken. Amy was so right - if I had turned back, it would have really bothered me later not to get to the top of Tumbledown Mountain.
The photo that my friends gave me still hangs in my kitchen, and I look at it often, always feeling inspired when I do so, and thinking of a very special hike on that August day.
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