The last big challenge when climbing Everest is the Hillary Step at almost 29,000 feet above sea level. It is a forty-feet vertical ice and rock wall that is named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first mountaineer to reach the summit with Sherpa Tensing in 1953. This technical challenge is up in what is known as the ‘Death Zone’. The majority of climbers are using oxygen by this time as the thin air at that altitude wreaks havoc on the body. Once climbed, there is a gentle slope of 250 feet to the summit.
When I was first diagnosed and had the picture of climbing Everest, I could never have imagined what it would mean for me! Since then, I’ve done a lot of research and found that climbing Everest is extraordinarily close to my experience of going through cancer treatment.
Mountaineer Jon Krakauer, in his book ‘Into Thin Air’, talked about Everest being like no other mountain he’d been on.
‘I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium and suffering…..‘
Now I know everyone’s experience is different! Cancer treatments vary enormously and different types of cancer are treated in a myriad of different ways. But I do understand what he means!
After my last post, I had my 4th round of chemotherapy. Little did I know then, but I was soon to experience my ‘Hillary Step’. During the first week, I had the familiar side effects of tiredness, lack of concentration and achy legs. But at the end of the 2nd week, another side effect reared its ugly head! An itchy rash! It began in my hands and over the course of 12 hours, had spread all over my body. It was near impossible not to scratch and it quickly reduced me to a gibbering, moaning wreck!! I didn’t have enough arms to reach every itchy part. We rang the emergency number once again and they told me to immediately go to the emergency room. They were worried that the allergic reaction I was having might affect my breathing at any moment. By the time we got to the emergency room I was shaking in pain but still breathing well!
Another wonderful oncologist was there to treat me and after a few hours with a prescription of steroids and anti-histamines, the itchiness started to subside. Whilst there, this doctor became concerned about my blood results, showing that my immune system was weak. He was worried about the possibility of another infection from the remaining abscess in my abdomen and that I wouldn’t be able to fight it. However after another CT scan and discussions with the microbiologists, they concluded that I could go home with antibiotics as a precaution. This was such great news as they had been preparing us for another stay in hospital.
During this time, a friend sent me a link to a song by Lauren Daigle called ‘O Lord’. This line in the lyrics stood out to me:
‘I will stand my ground where HOPE can be found’
The Bible has so much to say about hope. In fact it is a book of hope! God is a God of hope!
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
A few years ago when visiting the Grand Canyon I saw an eagle soaring on the thermals, gaining height with every turn. I was mesmerised by this spectacular sight. These verses in Isaiah link the person whose hope is in God with the renewal of strength culminating in this beautiful picture of eagles soaring, running and not becoming weary and walking and not fainting. That is what I needed to continue climbing!
My next round of chemotherapy has been completely different. Just as the Hillary Step is a technical challenge to climbers, my oncologist made a ‘technical’ change to my cocktail of chemo drugs so that I would not have to go through this experience again. I have had different side effects this time but they were much less debilitating.
Climbers reaching the top of the Hillary Step are very close to the summit. I too, am close to finishing my treatment now. One more round of chemo to go!!!