Taking the Latest Treatment Plunge
The main reason for our family vacation to Park City, Utah was to give Amelie & Eleni the experience of “fun in the snow” that Veronica and I had growing up back East before moving to California. There was a side aspect to the trip though. It was the final week of my 3-week Christmas /vacation/Eleni’s 4th birthday chemo break – upon return from Utah, I knew I would be facing tough decisions re: switching to a harsher chemo cocktail vs. entering an unproven drug clinical trial. Although I have zero symptoms of cancer and feel 100% healthy, my lung tumors are slowly growing under standard chemo – i.e. they are not responding to treatment.
Although I was focused on fun during the trip, that impending decision was in the back of my mind as I looked up the ski mountain to the summit (10,000 ft). I had skied once or twice each winter as a kid but always on relatively small hills back East – this was my first ever trip to a “mountain” resort in the Rockies (we figured the site of a 2002 Winter Olympics ski events was as good a place to start as any ha). While relearning my (limited) childhood skiing skills (I hadn’t skied for 23 years!) on the bunny slopes, I could not get that summit out of my mind (of course having a 10,000 ft mountain in front of you does not help in that regard).
Veronica decided to take a skiing break to watch our 3-year old Eleni in her ski class for a while – I double-checked the trail map and noticed a route down from the summit at my skill level that I could possibly do without ending up hospitalized in traction. One thing I have learned from Cancer over the past few years – never give in to fear and never be afraid to take chances if there is a clear goal in sight. “Living” = a very clear goal. Likewise, looking up at a 10,000 ft summit = a very clear goal.
I told Veronica my plans & skied over to the almost empty ski lift going up to the summit. I got on an empty 6-person lift by myself (I was glad to be in solace for the ride) and the lift operator said “Good Luck Sir” as the chair took a hold of me (I must have had a nervous look on my face!). The 15 minute ride up the hill was incredibly beautiful – the sun was out in full glory and it was breathtaking to “climb the mountain” dangling in the open air – with the occasional mostly empty steep ski runs criss-crossing below me. I exited the lift at the summit & the view was spectacular (photo below).
In all directions were various snow-capped mountain ranges, most of which had summits lower than me. I took some cell phone pictures as mementos, sent a quick text to Veronica and my sister that I was at the top & about to take the plunge. I looked at the trail map one last time to mentally plan how to avoid accidentally getting on any black diamonds on my way down – I crossed my chest, took a deep breath, thought to myself “no fear” and pushed off the snow to begin the biggest ski run of my life.
It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, descending almost 3,000 ft down a mountain on my own. Even with taking the “easiest” route down (although there were a few very close calls, I made all the turns necessary to keep on my planned route – whew!) – I was at the absolute limit of my very limited 23 year old rusty skiing abilities (actually to be honest slightly over my abilities). But I had that goal in my mind & I was not going to give up. It took every inch of mental & physical concentration I had in me in order to make the necessary turns, avoid the side cliffs, importantly not wipe out (there were 3 close calls where I seriously doubted I would stay up!) and even with trying my hardest to control my speed, due to the slope and length of the run, it was the fastest I have ever moved without the safety of a metal shell of a car around me.
Even at high speeds and concentration, the parallels with my cancer treatments did not mentally escape me as I barreled down the slope, barely in control of my own destiny, regardless of how hard I worked to gain that control.
Chemo has certainly weakened me physically and I was starting to feel very worn out and I began to look for a place to pull over for a breather. At that moment, I turned a corner and the run opened up straight and I could clearly see the base resort in the distance. Clearly seeing my end goal now within reach, I got the extra boost of stamina I needed and merged into the busy lower slope runs and slid into the throng of resort people at the end of the run. I was out of breath, my legs felt like spaghetti but I crossed myself again and said “No fear – I did it!” (a self-photo of that moment of jubilation below 🙂
I then looked down at my watch and saw it was 3:02 PM – I was supposed to pick up our 7-year old daughter Amelie at 3:00 from her ski school!! As what happens continuously with Cancer, everyday “normal” realities of life and being a parent came crashing into my Cancer moment.
Legs still like spaghetti, I quickly ran over to the school area. After a quick hug, I asked Amelie which ski run the school had gotten up to that afternoon, expecting a bunny slope. With a very proud look on her very tired face, she told me she had just finished the exact same run from the mountain’s summit I had done, which had been the key goal required for her to move to the next school level. We had both accomplished the same major individual goal simultaneously without knowing we were both traversing the same mountain at the same time (she must have been about 5 minutes ahead of me). I had been proud of myself – now I saw that the same goal I accomplished at 42, had been obtained 35 years sooner by my 7-year old – and this deepened my pride & joy by an order of magnitude! For both of us, the overarching goal had been the same – if you have a goal, figure out what it takes to achieve it and take the necessary plunge with no fear.
A few days later I met with my oncologist to restart treatment. After a lot of soul searching (and scientific reading!) we jointly came up with a clear plan of action which (pending my next scan results) will likely involve me entering a “custom-made” clinical trial in Feb., perhaps literally being the first patient in the world to take that particular drug combination – who could ask for more than that level of personalized treatment? I feel very blessed to be being treated by a brilliant “scientist” oncologist who I can discuss ideas and plan with – there is no better treatment situation that I, as a scientist, could wish for!
My goal is life; I’m trying to figure out what it takes to achieve this; and this week we planned the (latest) necessary treatment plunge — with no fear.
Live life always. No fear.