A true adventure.
In 1997 at age 32, I had already developed a taste for adventure. I had spent six years living in Germany while serving in the Air Force and, during my tour there, had taken up hiking, rock climbing and scuba diving. But there was still always a sense of insecurity when it came to trying something new, and there were certain things I just didn’t think I could do, so I wouldn’t even try. Then came those life altering words, “You have breast cancer.” My 33rd birthday party was held in an operating room while a surgeon removed a cancerous tumor and 14 lymph nodes.
Though surgery, radiation and chemo may have transformed my appearance, the real transformation that took place went much deeper. “Oh, I don’t think I could do that,” soon became “Why not?!” Before I knew it, I completed my first 100+ mile bike ride – right in the middle of my radiation treatments just to see if I could actually do a century ride. Then, during the course of my radiation, a tumor was found in the one breast that was simply going to require a surgical biopsy. But the day before I had the surgery, cancer was the last thing on my mind as I was hurtling myself off a bridge attached to a bungee cord.
As I recovered from my treatments, I discovered an organization for female survivors of all types of cancer. Rather than sit around and talk about our stories, we got involved in physical activities. I heard there was a group of women that were going to attempt to summit Mt. Rainier, a Northwest icon. So I went to a meeting thinking there was no way I could actually complete such a feat, but I was willing to try. A few short months later on a gorgeous sunny day, I stood on top of that great mountain. It made me believe if I could conquer that, I had also conquered my cancer. I summited Rainier a second time the following year - then another year later, I climbed Mt. Baker and raised $4,500 to support breast cancer research for a center I worked at during that time.
The more new things I tried, the more I wanted to do. I went skydiving over the Florida Keys, scuba diving with sharks in the Bahamas, parasailing and ATV riding in Mexico, went up in a glider plane in California, rode my bike from Oregon to Canada for a three-day fund raiser, took a trapeze lesson in New York City and more.
However, the biggest risk/challenge/adventure was one I took professionally. Five years after my original diagnosis, I took the advice of a friend who had once been a professional firefighter and once told me it would be the perfect career for me. At age 38 and only 5’3,” I originally told him he was crazy, but once again, the “Why not do it?” attitude kicked in and I went for it. I was hired by the best department around and have not once regretted the decision. Just three years into my new career, I received a second diagnosis of breast cancer. My firefighting coworkers surrounded me with love and support, shaving their heads and working all of my shifts for me during the six months I was off to complete my treatments.
Throughout all of my journeys, the sense of security about life that cancer may have taken from me was replaced by something much greater. Now I continually look forward to more adventures, adding a new one to the list as soon as one is crossed off. So… what’s next???Camari, Ford Warriors in Pink/Model of Courage