“Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon.”
A mountain is a metaphor for cancer is a metaphor for a journey is a metaphor for life. All teach lessons of perspective, and if absorbed carefully, can allow one to live at a higher level of thought, one of them literally.
A group of cancer survivors arrived in Africa last night with the goal of climbing its highest peak. Yes, cancer has taught them many lessons in the ways of living, but cancer was never by choice. To take on a mountain, knowing full well that it will come with struggle, tears and pain, elation, smiles and beautiful moments of hope, and to do it all by choice, that is a different kind of adversity. A kind accepted even before it begins.
These are not mountain climbers. Some used to scoff at the idea of exercise. A handful had to pick up their first passport for the excursion. Many have hardly an idea of what lies ahead. This makes them courageous, even before stepping foot on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
No one knows what will take place. There will be setbacks, none more forceful than that of the one cancer had on their lives, but major enough to make this window of adventure a journey with a full range of the feelings and emotions that appear in a lifetime.
Already, there have been some. Many of us arrived into Tanzania in the cool darkness of the mountain town Moshi last evening, but not all. Eight of the 40 members of the cancer survivor and caregiver group learned news of delayed or canceled flights and we still await their arrival.
Prostate cancer survivor Mark Hillman, a 69-year-old retired dentist, and his wife Carol had been in training and preparation for this endeavor until three days before takeoff when Mark slipped on a patch of ice outside his home and injured his knee to the point in which the couple had to cancel their plans. It was clear on the phone that the couple was still trying to put it in perspective.
“It could be worse, he could be sick,” Carol gathered. “Mark said it’s better it happened here than halfway up the mountain.
The day before the group was to depart from the U.S., lymphoma survivor Kimberly Price mentioned to her doctor that she was experiencing some symptoms of pneumonia. The mother of four young children shed many tears between the time she was told she would not be able to take part and the time she hugged her fellow survivors goodbye at the airport. They offered words of comfort and compassion. Having shared a bond through the terrible thing called cancer, their ability to cope with difficult news is a quality none would necessarily desire, but one that is useful in times like these. They told her there would be better days ahead. Kimberly nodded her head, knowing this to be truth.
As a majority of the group traveled halfway around the world, donning red Above + Beyond Cancer apparel and wide grins of appreciation, anticipation and a bit of anxiety, Kimberly sat in her familiar Iowa home and composed a message to share with the people she began to call friends over the past few weeks.
“Although I am SO VERY disappointed I cannot be there to experience this with all of you, I want you all to know all is good. I got to snuggle up with my three year old this afternoon and reveled in all the kisses and love he gave me.
“There is a reason in life for everything. There will always be setbacks. Heck, cancer was a huge one, but how we handle these and our perspective is so very important. I have already been blessed in so many ways over the past six weeks getting to know everyone, and I expect this will continue upon your return. I look forward to hearing all the amazing stories.”
A mountain, a journey, cancer, they all provide perspective in a life. It’s how much we decide to let it all in that allows us to use it in times like these. For Mark and Kimberly, they will not step foot on this mountain this time, but their grace and positive outlook on the situation makes them just as courageous as anyone who reaches the snow-capped peak.
This morning our group awoke to roosters crowing, foreign tongues, flowers in full bloom and a perfect slow sunrise that allowed us to see the grandness of Kilimanjaro for the first time. Had it not been for cancer, they may not have ever seen, felt or lived such things.
“I haven’t a clue as to how my story will end,” Kimberly said. “But that’s all right. When you set out on this journey and night covers the road, that is when you discover the stars.”