CHEMO DIDN’T MAKE ME PUKE. MT. EVEREST DID
A few years ago I was invited by the Love, Hope, Strength Foundation to participate on a trek up Mt. Everest. The plan was to play the world’s highest rock concert in an effort to raise money for a new Nepalese cancer center. (No doubt the record for highest people at a rock concert had already been set.
At the time I was the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Prepare to Live, the first and only non-profit organization run by and for Young Adults coping with cancer. And I was, and am still, a cancer survivor having had a brush with Leukemia.
I was one of only a handful of survivors on the trail, but it wasn’t my musical talent that got me there. Members of The Stray Cats, The Fixx and Squeeze were already headlining, along with MTV who filmed a documentary about it all. Yet, despite being surrounded by rock stars and the majestic beauty of the Himalayas, the ugliness of cancer was always on our minds.
Cancer survivors never forget they had cancer, and they almost never become famous for having had it. They don’t typically star in movies or music videos, write books, get awards or cheat in the Tour de France. Most survivors simply accept the little bit of enlightenment that comes with winning the battle and do the best they can to leave cancer behind.
But letting go of cancer can be hard. In some ways it may even be harder than beating it. In the fight you are completely engaged with your whole being, powered by a godly determination to not let this disease beat you. Once you realize it hasn’t, things can get difficult. Who are you now? What does beating cancer really mean? How will you deal with the scars – physical or emotional? Why did you make it when so many others did not? How do you know it’s really gone?
And while these questions may be worth asking (and answering), my theory is at some point you have to stop focusing on being a “survivor” and just live. And so it happens that on the trail, while basking in the powerful, peaceful Himalayan energy, surrounded by Sherpas, yaks and an amazing group of friends, I took a leap of faith and said goodbye to my cancer.
I’d like to say I left it on the mounta in top, but I never made it to the summit. And I missed the concert at Base Camp. Instead I was in a plywood hut at Gorak Shep struggling with altitude sickness, breathing in yak dung dust and puking my guts out.
But it didn’t matter. In fact, you might say I was on top of the world, because my cancer was dead and gone.
And I was alive.