In a flash: my hike to myrtle falls
It’s been a year and, looking at me from the outside you’d never know. That’s how I want it. I found the latex pad from one of my bikini tops that fills in the space nicely. It’s lightweight and doesn’t make me sweat like those silicone prostheses. The only way anyone would know is if they saw me naked.
The surgeon took more of my left breast than he’d originally planned. Once he’d opened me up he discovered the cancer had spread farther than he thought. He was so surprised he came out of surgery to inform my husband, who told him to cut it out, get it all. When the doctor first mentioned reconstruction automatically I blurted out my refusal. My breasts are dense and fibrous. I was afraid they’d never find a recurrence, and I’d end up dead like my aunt.
Modern medicine is a marvel and surgery, radiation and medication have brought me to this point. One year cancer free. To celebrate my husband and I are taking a snowy trek to Myrtle Fall on Mount Rainier. Winter in Washington is glorious when the mountains are filled with snow, and I’m excited about our little expedition.
I look down at my breast. As scars go it’s not bad, it’s smooth and silvery, my badge of honor. He was able to leave the nipple, but about a third of my left breast is missing. I quickly hook my bra and stuff the pad inside. My coat will cover it. No one will see it, but it’s become habit. It’s helps me feel whole, normal, and comfortable. It helps me face the day. I finish dressing and we gather our gear and pile it into the trunk.
In an hour we’re facing the mountain. The air was bracing, refreshingly cold and the sky is icy blue. The glare from the snow is blinding. Everything sparkles and sounds are muffled by the heavy snow. Dressed in snow pants and parkas we gather our gloves and gear ready, to tackle the mountain. We retrieve our trekking poles and ice cleats from the trunk. The ice cleats slip on over our boots to give us traction on ice. Myrtle Falls is a short hike, a mile round trip, the elevation is 5,515 feet and parts of the hike that are a 22 percent grade!
The first part of the hike is uneventful. We plodded along, enjoying the view and taking pictures. It was a snowy paradise. I can’t find the words to describe such beauty. I was grateful for my trekking poles when the trail grew steeper. We met other outdoor enthusiasts along the trail, hikers and sledders and couple of guys snow-shoeing. They had serious back country gear and glided effortlessly past us and disappeared into the trees. At this rate I’d be lucky to make it to the falls, which of course are covered in snow. My breathing became labored, my lungs spasmed at the rush of frigid air that filled them. This was harder than I thought it would be. My thighs and glutes are on fire.
A stabbing, searing pain under my left breast and arm took me by surprise and I cried out,”Aaah!” My husband looked back. His eyes were shielded by sunglasses and his face obscured by the hood of his parka, but I could hear the concern in his voice when he asked me if I was okay. This is my new normal. Nerve damage and scar tissue. The pain flares up when I overwork the muscles. Lots of women suffer from it, but it’s something the doctors don’t tell you. Each time I take a deep breath the pain races through me.
“Easy sweetie, shorter, shallower breaths,” he says trying to soothe me. He rubs my back as tears slide down me cheeks.
“I’m okay, give me a minute,” I answer softly, fighting to regain my composure,
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Hell yes I do! Cancer hasn’t won so far it’s not going to now.”
“All right. This is the steepest part, but not for long.”
Carefully, I put one boot in front of the other on the narrow icy trail. My right hip flexor began to hurt, my pace was slowing. What was I thinking? I’m not freakin’ Wonder Woman! I’m just an average woman over 40 who happens to be a breast cancer survivor. But I AM a survivor. I’m grateful for the challenge. I’m overjoyed to be here given the alternative. Cancer runs in the family. My sister’s had it twice and survived, my mother didn’t.
Emboldened with my new sense of purpose I surged forward focusing all of my energy and strength on the task before me. The sound of our boots crunching through the snow filled my ears. The cold wind whipped and whistled around us, enveloping us in a world of icy, wintry beauty. I was revitalized and renewed.
White hot pain shot through me again stealing my breath from me. I fought the urge to cry out. If my husband became aware of my agony he’d want to stop out of concern for me and we were too close. The trail leveled out and tears trickled down my face and we reached our destination. The view as stunning. We stopped to take pictures and rest awhile. Take that cancer! If this the new normal I’ll take it it’s beautiful.