The photo is me on Big Slide Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, holding a small, circular patch, tears in my eyes and grateful that the moment was finally happening. It’s been said, “They don’t give out that patch just for walking down Main Street”! I did it. I had just hiked my 46th peak. It took me a long time to hike all 46 mountains over 4,000 feet. It was an enormous goal which required a lot of physical strength, a bit of courage and plenty of determination.
I had the most incredible hiking partner who would always show up well-prepared with more enthusiasm for hiking than I knew existed. We knew safety was our priority, yet there wasn’t a hike where we ever turned back. Rain, hail, wind, mud. There was no whining (ok, maybe I whined a little ascending Seward Mountain in a downpour) …no “I can’t do this”, or “why did we do this hike”. I learned a lot about my hiking partner during our miles over the mountains. I learned a lot more about myself.
I posted that photo ‘ 5 years ago I did this…blah blah.’ The question that really needed to be answered was, Wendy, What Have You Done Lately?
On July 30, 2016, I finished a 5K.
Well, yes. To me is was a big deal. You see, I made it to the 7am start of the race (a 90 minute drive). My goal was to start it, to finish it and I hoped to complete it in under 45 minutes.
I had finished Radiation treatment for Breast Cancer on July 20, 2016.
When I crossed the finish line with my son along side of me, I was elated, exhausted, ready to burst into tears and laughing – at the same time. I wanted to remember this moment as crossing the finish line of cancer. I wanted to run further than cancer could. I wanted to be done with the appointments, the treatments, the endless discussion and research of cancer. I wanted to go back to my life.
(Honestly, when I have another ‘memorable moment’ photo opportunity–could someone please hand me a towel to wipe my sweat, and kindly mention to me to fix my hair…? Thanks)
The cancer diagnosis to me is like being a waiter in a very busy restaurant. The waiter has a huge tray filled with plates of delicious food and beverages in pretty glasses – and the waiter is about to leave the kitchen – little does the waiter know that someone is coming IN the OUT door of the kitchen. The tray and its contents end up everywhere, mostly broken into pieces on the floor. Nothing looks the same. Nothing will ever be the same. It’s a very big mess and a long time before it’s cleaned up.
I’ve been on the care-giving side of cancer – which really is no picnic. I’ve now seen both sides as care-giver and person diagnosed with cancer.
I was extremely fortunate for many reasons. As I waded through the diagnosis, I came in contact with some amazing humans. A Radiologist who, while most were obsessed with Pokemon GO!, he was diligent in doing what he does really well and was paying close attention to my scan. And a surgeon who is gifted in her craft and even more, in her role as the most caring human I’ve met in a very long time. I’ll write more about her-she deserves her own story.
Three biopsies and two surgeries really didn’t fit into my workout plans very well. Once I received the OK to exercise after the last surgery, I felt better emotionally. (This is by no means medical advice to anyone.). I then faced Radiation treatments. I had to find a way to stay focused and to get through the 21 days marked on my calendar. You see, everything else in the world becomes less of a priority. There’s less energy to complete all the usual tasks of life. My work as a photographer started to expose gaping holes on my calendar.
I made a decision to take some control in a situation where I really had so little control. Every day after radiation treatment, I went to my gym and promised myself I would run on the treadmill for 20 minutes. Every day. Miles didn’t matter. I thought I could do anything for 20 minutes. There were a couple days where I sat in my car in the gym parking lot, doing my best to gather strength to walk across the parking lot and go inside. No one at the gym knew of my cancer. There were a couple days where I felt I was towing a refrigerator behind me. I had to walk some of those minutes. I was grateful I could move forward – one step. The exhaustion from radiation treatment is real. The effects are cumulative. I remember Day 8 on the treadmill was really challenging. Exhausting. The next day I felt better.
I needed to focus on finishing and being done with cancer. I signed up my son and I for the ‘Runway 5K’ – an opportunity to run the world’s busiest runway at EAA in Oshkosh, WI. If you’re an airplane buff you’ve heard of EAA. It’s an amazing event. My son asked if I wanted him to run with me. Usually I run alone with music but was grateful for his offer, his company. He kept up a steady commentary pointing out some of the thousands of planes parked on the grass, taxiing and taking off on that overcast morning. I mentioned to him before the start that if I stopped running, to just say “keep moving forward, mom”. We ran the whole way. OK, that’s not a fair assessment. Like a thoroughbred under rein, he was doing a slow jog, I was just trying to keep my feet moving.
We were coming up on the last mile. I was exhausted. I was grateful that the sun was not out. My skin was still hot. I wanted to stop.
I had to dig very deep to keep moving. I needed a positive thought in my head but came up empty. I briefly recalled my 46er finish, but that was too much energy to summon. And in one instant, something came over me that it’s not about me. I could do this last mile for someone who can’t. Immediately I found energy inside. I dedicated the last mile to a woman I met during radiation. We had started radiation the same day. Her cancer story has been non-stop, 24/7 since last October. She’s had chemo, double mastectomy surgery and wasn’t finished with radiation yet. I carried her in my heart across the finish line.
The waiter’s tray is a mess on the floor of the busy restaurant. There’s some yelling and screaming and lots of chaos. I calmly stand up, take a deep breath, I inhale and exhale. I pick up the tray and decide what to place back onto it, if anything.
Most people don’t know I had Breast Cancer. Apparently, as my hair was still intact, people thought I ‘looked great’! Cancer hair loss is usually related to chemotherapy. In a future post, I’ll write more about my chemo story. I’m very fortunate.
I thought I was going to pick up my life where I left off after my ‘6 month Vacation’…(ugh, predictive type always fixes that)…after my ‘cancer treatment of 6 months & Radiation’ – that world doesn’t exist anymore.
Sadly, there are a lot of cancer stories. Many are painful stories with unfortunate endings. Mine is filled with amazing people, mountains of kindness and incredible moments.
I’d like to share them with you.
Hiking boots. 4:30am alarm. Fender-bender.
3 Generations. Mountains. Gratitude.
Years ago, my hiking partner & I would greet the day with an early alarm. Rising with the alarm would be crazy to assume, as neither one of us would have slept a wink, knowing we had the opportunity to hike together in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains of upper New York State. One of the first on the trail that day gave us the chance of collecting all the spider webs, making our footprints in the mud from the night before and getting a jump on the summer daylight. (the truth: most days it rained when we hiked…there was no beautiful sunrise).
Back then, we hiked with a mission to finish hiking all 46 peaks in the Adirondacks over 4,000 feet in elevation. Once we accomplished that goal (and it was a huge accomplishment) everyone wondered “what’s next?” will you continue to hike or just pack it in now that you’ve accomplished your goal? I knew instinctively that I’d return with my camera. It wouldn’t be a hike, it would be a photo op. The photo documentation from our hikes had consisted of: arrival at the peak – sometimes with a marker or a plastic disc with the mountain name – in the rain – the swift removal of my point & shoot from the zip lock baggie, one shot at a selfie with both of us in it, the return of the camera to the zip lock & trying to get below the tree line for shelter so we could take in a quick energy break.
During the miles of footprints on the trails I saw so many beautiful places that I wanted to photograph. Carrying a camera & spending the time to stop & start seemed counter to our success at that time. However, in my mind, my creative thoughts flowed constantly…almost as strong as the river we ascended Seward Mountain in. I pictured a beautiful vista – we passed several – with a strong woman in red, in complete possession of her beauty and power with the Adirondack mountains as a stunning & supportive backdrop. The mountains with all their beauty couldn’t shine as bright as a strong woman. The combination, in my mind, was powerfully crazy. It kept my thoughts occupied as the long winter months dragged on, just waiting for the opportunity, the stars to align, the moment when I could look thru my camera, press the shutter and capture the beauty, the strength, the elegance, the moment.
Until it happened.
A small window created itself. Then closed. The only day for a hike was postponed by a fender-bender. It couldn’t be helped. Fortunately no one was injured, just the mounting anticipation postponed. It had already been two years, what’s another day?
Funny thing when we listen to the energy of the universe.
The fender-bender was only to delay our hike, avoiding heat, humidity and…rain & thunderstorms. The weather the following day was…incredible. It began with a gift of a beautiful blue moon reflecting on the lake. We hiked a long road into the base of the mountain, uphill all the way.
I carried my pack with my usual hiking gear and an additional pack with my camera, a few dresses and flow-y fabric and a few assorted props. Gratefully, my hiking buddies/models helped to carry the additional pack. We quickly ascended to our destination. Up. And more Up. I had only seen photographs of our location, sight unseen but listening to the universe.
The day was just dawning with beautiful sun rays peeking through the trees along the trail. The birch trees glowing white. The river singing alongside our path. My only Adirondack hike of the year and I anticipated the smell of balsam. I wasn’t disappointed.
With excitement came our last turn off the uphill trail, I was leading and as the trees parted, I came out onto the granite ledge. W. O. W. All I could say was “wow”…with that raspy, not-really-a-sound but more of an exclamation, almost to myself…and to the universe. Gratitude flowed over my soul as I looked out onto the most beautiful sight I had only dreamed of. Mountains to the left and to the right, mountains I had climbed over 25 years, with the beautiful blue lake, nestled in between. Blue sky and white clouds as far as I could see. There really are no words when you come across such majesty. Nature is an incredible editor, making everything just so.
My girls, hiking buddies, taking in the view as well, were psyched! I had packed a couple dresses and fabric – game ON. Hiking boots and beautiful dresses! I could not contain my excitement for another minute. The three of us, bonded by legacy. Our fathers had known each other years ago at a local camp (the Greatest Camp in the Universe). We reunited recently, after one of the connectors passed away. We were together to sprinkle some ashes in his beloved mountains.
Our hike quickly erupted into a photo session…my vision came to life right before my eyes! It’s always a wonderful feeling when others will take your lead and trust you immensely – to allow me to coach their body into a moment and wait for me to photograph it. Completely vulnerable. Strong. Incredible. Feminine. Powerful. Without a doubt, beautiful.
We laughed. We worked hard. Almost as hard as the hike to get here. My vision had come to fruition. These women made it happen. I was filled with gratitude beyond words. Just images.
The final series was with both women. A bond with roots 50 years in the making. We are the middle. Our sons were also at the Greatest Camp in the Universe this summer, together. Continuing the legacy of their grandfathers.
I positioned the models on the edge of the cliff, allowing their poses to naturally flow, as the clouds came over and covered the sun, as the breeze blew cool air through their hair, their hands connected, the moment captured.
As I pressed my shutter for the final time that morning, tears fell from my eyes. The beauty. The majesty. The honor. I knew that was my final frame. There could be no more.
Gratitude poured from my soul, from my eyes. My vision of my hiking partner in a red dress on a mountain, strong, beautiful, came to life. The legacy and friendship between three people captured forever.
On a mountain.
ever feel like you can fly?
well, maybe not like Orville & Wilbur building the wings and attempting to fly….
sometimes my body is in alignment and feeling strong
my thoughts are open
my heart is receptive
and filled with gratitude
and then it happens
I feel like I can take flight
ok, so its during a yoga class, deeply centered, feeling strength from inside and no resistance from gravity. gently prompted into a graceful pose…and then it happened!
simultaneously: strength, power, gratitude…and flight
I’ve felt flight before and as if I didn’t want to miss out on a wonderful dream by waking up, I try to hold onto the beautiful moment.
the overwhelming gratitude filled my heart.
I can fly