Four years ago today I was hiking in Yosemite's High Country. My friend Rex and I were making my third-and victorious-attempt at climbing Half Dome. The two previous attempts had simply been too many high-altitude miles in one day for me to overcome. On October 10, 2008, Rex and I parked the car at Glacier Point and hiked to Little Yosemite Valley where we made camp. The next day we S-L-O-W-L-Y and painfully (well, for me anyway) made our way to the foot of the cables of the monolith. Since Rex had made the climb previously, he felt zero need to do it again. I put on my leather gloves and began hauling myself up a sometimes vertical pinnacle of granite. Reaching the top was the culmination of a twenty-year goal. It was sublime, breathtaking, humbling. I'm glad I did it. And it left me with a single, ultimate conviction... NEVER AGAIN.
Which brings me to cancer. Not that it was ever a goal or anything, but beating it certainly is. On the previous two attempts at climbing Half Dome I found myself struggling just to place one foot in front of another simply climbing the well-worn trail. I quit both times within a mile of reaching the cables. And after the hike, let me tell you; the cables are the easy part.
No, the similarity between beating cancer and climbing a mountain is perseverance. If you want to reach the goal you have to have the mental toughness that says I'm in for the long haul. I may be exhausted but I'm not quitting. It is an amazing thing that the body will do what the mind determines to do; even when the body is whining and crying "uncle!" When my mind said "I can't do it," my body said "OKAY!" Wanna beat it? You just have to keep at it.
The other day my friend R.P. brought up the old saw that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results." This bit of wisdom is deeply engrained in our culture. Most people simply nod sagely upon hearing it. Not R.P. He loves to wring the truth out of accepted conventional wisdom. "What if," he asked, "Moses had quit after nine plagues?" Humm... Hadn't thought of that. If you are trying to break a rock with a hammer you might have to hit it a LOT of times before it cracks. So, okay, there IS some wisdom in the old chestnut, but there is different wisdom to be learned from questioning it as well. "The definition of perseverance is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome in the end."
So here I am, in for the long haul. Less than a month until my sixth and final chemo session. That is encouraging news. But it also means I have two sessions and twenty-seven more days to go. And I am tired. walking or riding my bike for thirty minutes feels like climbing Half Dome for hours above 7,000 feet. There's not as much air as I'd prefer to inhale. But I learned I could climb that mountain once. With God's grace I will conquer this mountain as well.