On my use of the big one: when I’m in fear for my life, feeling powerless. I vividly recall using it three times looking back at our history together. Bill pulled me into many adventures that I doubt I ever would have done on my own – and would relive again with him in a heartbeat.
After a few runs down the tame ski hills in Wisconsin, we went to Utah for a week. The green runs at Snowbird were nothing more than the narrow roads winding around the edge of the mountain. Bill caught up with me and convinced me to take another run away from the road and down the side of the mountain. He stayed at the top while I gingerly traversed the mountain. Ski across, fall down, turn, ski, fall, turn, ski, fall, turn. After six or eight reps of this I stopped after ski, fall and was only a quarter of the way down the mountain. I just sat there with tears burning my cheeks. Bill, my alpine skiing hero, came swooshing up next to me. Seeing my tears, he said, “Oh, let me give you a hug!” My reply, “A hug won’t get me off this f@#$ mountain!” I have no idea what got me down the mountain; perhaps unleashing steam got the adrenaline going. I got off the mountain, sporting an eight inch bruise on the back of my left thigh where I fell on every left-handed turn.
On another adventure we were sailing with friends in St. Martin, bare boating, which means taking the boat out on our own with no paid crew. We had picked a week with a lot of wind. It was torturous, blowing all the time everywhere on the boat. Even as the sunset, when winds usually fade, it blew. If we tried to escape it down below, we would sweat because it was so hot. It made for some great sailing but happy hour was more like windy hour. We had sailed quite a way from the boat’s home base and had gotten caught in rainy weather. The Captain and First Mate, the men on our boat, decided to set sail anyway despite the rain. Soon it was more than rain. We were in 20-25 foot swells and beating rain. I sat looking out over the bow, watching land disappear as we slumbered over the crest of a wave and into the trough. I couldn’t do that, so I looked over the stern, only to see land behind us disappear. I looked all around us. No other boats were sailing these high seas. I turned to the Captain and the First Mate and asked, yelling over the gale, “Why are we the only f@#$ boat out here?” They were redeemed as a big dive boat motored by at full-power – with a lot more power than our little engine. Lying out flat on a dock never felt so good as at the end of that sail.
We rented a pretty large sail boat on that trip so we had two sleeping berths and a third just for scuba gear. Despite the constant five to eight foot swells, we still had some great dives in St. Martin. We would drop anchor near a dive site then giant stride off the back of the boat and settle down between 30 and 80 feet deep where there was no chop but sometimes a pretty strong surge. During one dive we checked air levels and decided we needed to head back to the boat. At 30 feet deep we swam and swam, longer than what we did on the way out. I was getting big-eyed – swimming at 30 feet was a lot easier than surface swimming in choppy water, and I didn’t have an abundance of air. I developed my own underwater sign: cupping my hands together and moving them emphatically as if to say, “Where’s the f@#$ boat?” Bill understood. At that point our captain went to the surface and found it. Behind us. It had swung around in the rough seas and we had swum right past it.
So, June 16th I found myself on yet another boat bracing high seas. Atop a very steep mountain skiing on a narrow road. Diving with little air not knowing where my boat was anchored. From then until early August I woke up every day with the same thoughts, “Mmm… the sun’s up. What day is it? F@#$, I have cancer.” I’ve never sworn so much in my whole life. Once the cancer was thoroughly defined and didn’t appear anywhere else on the PET scan the word dropped from my wake-up routine. Slightly smoother sailing, a mountain with gentler slopes, back safely on a stable sail boat. No longer in fear for my life and gaining knowledge, hence power. I was going to live.
I saw my oncologist yesterday before chemo. I’m not sure what the discussion was but he referred to the time when I “had” cancer. And I think back to the radiation doctor in September who said to count the cancer cells in my body would be like "counting the angels dancing on a pinhead." All I’m doing now and in the near future are preventative measures. I’m officially putting cancer in the past tense.