Diane stretches her right arm to me, and holds a tan compression sleeve in her left hand. “Will you help me put this on?” For 3 years, since surviving breast cancer, Diane Hammond fends lymphedema by wearing a tight sleeve from her wrist to shoulder. Usually, her husband of 25 years, aids in the compression ritual of pull from the hand and tug at the armpit. After ascending seven miles along a steep, mud packed and rocky trail and hunkering into a sleeping bag, fending off a 30 degree chill, I am her tugger and puller.
Diane’s tired eyes lock momentarily with mine, then they scan the green tent triangle tops that mark our nomadic camping village at 15,000 feet.
Our eyes meet again, and hold this time, as a tiny tear wells in the corner. “I now realize accepting help is not failure,” Diane says.
I am not a stranger to Diane’s tears. Two months earlier, at the gym, Diane shed big drops of frustration and grief. A recent fall at home fractured her wrist, requiring 9 pins and a plate.
“I’m afraid I won’t be ready for the climb in 6 weeks,” Diane admits, as she blots her eyes with kleenex. At the fitness center, we map an adapted training plan. She bravely resumes work outs with the 2014 Above + Beyond Cancer: Machu Picchu team on Tuesday nights at the YMCA Healthy Living Center in Des Moines.
Diane survived a near fatal car crash at age 19, leaving her with restricted mobility of her left shoulder, and by age twenty she lost her mother, who suffered from depression. This August, her aunt, who was like a second mother to Diane, passed away. In September, Diane sent me the following email: “I am learning life will continue to throw curve balls, but I am more determined than ever to not let them take me out of the game.”
Several curve balls are thrown on the trek to Machu Picchu: Consistent rain; shaky log bridge crossings; fatigue; appetite loss; mental and physical darkness.
We step… pause… step. Marcus, a fellow cancer survivor, whispers a prayer in Diane’s right ear. Roger and Teresa, fellow caregivers, hold Diane’s hands and pace her to each landmark… We help, she accepts. We give light, as night falls.
Two days after our return from Machu Picchu I wrap a tape measure around Diane’s abdomen, hips, chest, arms and legs. She has lost twelve inches in fewer than four months. She steps for three minutes on a twelve inch riser, and I count her recovery heart rate. Thirty-two beats a minute improvement. The electronic machine reports lower body fat and younger metabolic age. Diane smiles like a kid who just hit a home run off a curve ball.
“Thank you, Mary. Thank you and Above + Beyond Cancer for adding years to my life.”
To learn more about Cancer Survivorship Training and how to join Team Above and Beyond Cancer, contact Mary Van Heukelom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in hearing more about our Journey to Machu Picchu? Come to the Above + Beyond Cancer: An Evening of Inspiration Event on Friday, October 17th. Get your tickets here!