The first challenge when climbing Everest is scaling the Khumbu Icefall. It is described as one of the most dangerous parts of the ascent. It is where the Western Cwm glacier of higher up
becomes a gushing river of frozen ice constantly moving at about one metre a day as it is squeezed through the mouth of the valley. Lord Hunt described it on his first ascent in 1953 as a sheer precipice, overhung with thick slices of blue ice more than 100 feet in depth, which peel off in massive slabs at intervals during each day!
My first challenge has been chemotherapy. After two days at home where I was feeling relatively ok, I crashed! Pain and sickness overwhelmed me and I ended up being taken into hospital by ambulance on the one snowy evening of the year! The paramedics were amazing! Turning a panicky situation into one of calmness and reassurance was one of their skills as well as swiftly doing the medical checks they needed to ascertain how ill I was. Once in hospital, the doctors found out that my gut had completely blocked up which was causing the severe pain. Unknown to me, this had been caused by the drugs I’d been taking to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy.
Over the next two days I didn’t get much rest as they worked to get my gut unblocked and functioning again! I watched a skilful team at work! Nurses looked after me whilst doctors and a very helpful pharmacist worked on a new drug regime. Whilst I was in hospital, our son Sam and his wife Sarah, arrived from the USA with our new baby granddaughter. The trip had been planned long before any diagnosis but the timing was perfect. The next day I was able to join them at home and recuperated by having lots of cuddles with our newest baby – the best kind of therapy!!
What is interesting about climbing Everest is that the climbers have to keep ascending the mountain higher each time followed by descent back to Base Camp. This is in order to allow their bodies to slowly acclimatise to the altitude to give them the best chance of reaching the summit. So they don’t just climb the Khumbu Icefall once! They do it over and over again! That’s what chemotherapy is like. I get through one cycle, recover some strength and then start again.
As I write, I’m just entering the second week of the second round of chemo. Last week was rough!! No ambulance trips to hospital this time for which I’m grateful, but I experienced a lot of pain from the chemo drugs themselves. I’m used to aching legs from long runs, but this was something quite different! This was nerve pain and no amount of stretching or massaging alleviates it! It was also accompanied by what I have heard described as ‘chemo tiredness’. It isn’t like usual tiredness. I felt energy literally draining out of me, a fog came over my brain and concentration disappeared. I crawled back into bed at those times and slept or dozed my way through the days.
Yesterday I felt my head start to clear! It was an amazing feeling to be able to think again and concentrate on a task!
Mine was to start a new jigsaw!! A kind friend had leant me one of theirs so it was a perfect way to get my brain working again! We do have a few jigsaw giants in our family including our 3 year old grandson, but with none in my house right now, I’ll have to see how far I get!
So back to Base Camp to start recovery ready for the next climb! For mountaineers, this is all a familiar way of making the ultimate goal even a possibility. I’m still learning the ropes but am slowly getting there!!