“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”
― Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]
I’m putting a lot of hope in salt water. The Pacific Ocean, some crying. Saline infusions too. But mostly, I rely on sweat.
This fall, I was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer. An aggressive cancer with a genetic mutation that increases the chances of metastasis and relapse and not the type of prognosis I’m super psyched on.
One day it was just there – this large, skipping-stone shaped tumor in my breast. I could practically see it. I knew with certainty that it was cancer, but I decided to believe it wasn’t. I waited a while before I mentioned it to anyone. I told Dan in a moment of invincibility after running hard up the Niesen. I stressed even longer before submitting to the first of what has now been so many doctor’s appointments, half-open hospital gowns, infusions, injections, complications, and big toxic words I never had any interest in knowing.
In a matter of seconds, I left the Alps. Cried a little about that. Moved in with family in California (a story of amazing generosity to come later). Got insurance in the States (Thank you, Mr. Obama!). And have already had my first rounds of chemotherapy.
I’m bald now, I take naps when I need to, and am fascinated by the oh-so interesting side effects of treatment. But I’m also still running. Nearly every single day.
The best advice I’ve gotten, or at least the advice I want to hear, has been to stay as active as possible. Cancer patients who are active through treatment tend to handle the treatment better and also recover from it more easily. That probably could use a citation, but I’ve heard it from plenty of oncologists, nurses, of course the internet, and I can feel it’s the right thing to do for myself.
So I slather on sunscreen, make a couple trips to the bathroom, grab a hat and some extra supportive shoes, find my watch because I love to log my chemo runs on Strava, drink some water, one more trip to the bathroom, chapstick, and finally make it out the door for the part of the day where I feel like who I am. Running is my constant when every other detail has changed. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.
Even if that just means flat 5-10km runs, I am so stoked that I can get out there, and in shorts, and keep this part of myself! By late in Round 2, my distances are increasing, and I’m finding occasional vert.
These runs will allow me back to bigger things sooner. And while those bigger things are great motivation, they’re not the only reason to run now. I know I’ll make it back to the Alps, but for now, I love these runs. Even the tough ones, the 5km that I had to stop and take a nap halfway through, the hill reps, slow sand, tripping over cactus, headwind, chasing semi-trucks along the highway, asphalt in general. As I’m understanding how the chemo cycles go, I’ve even had some days of joyful, dancing, bounding along a ridge by the beach, curving over singletrack, sharing trails with a friend, feeling the sunshine, and charging up steep slopes.
I’ve asked my body to do a lot, and now it needs care too. I’m taking advantage of all the wellness the cancer center offers: acupuncture, acupressure, yoga, massage, reiki, physical therapy, therapy… I think it all helps me focus on being present in my current situation and also in seeing something beyond this, even if that’s really far away.
Sweat helps me immensely, but in fairness, the chemo drugs and the knowledge of my cancer team have something to do with that cure too.
The Cancer stuff and more:
6 x 3 week cycles chemotherapy, surgery – probably a double mastectomy, radiation, and 11 x 3 week cycles of immunotherapy. That’s approximately 1 year of treatment followed by another 5 years of hormone therapy with fingers crossed not to start the process again.
I’m living with my aunt and uncle who live 1 mile from a really good cancer treatment center. I am so incredibly fortunate to have their support and a bedroom in their house. Of course I miss the Alps, but I won’t complain about sunshine in winter and being able to walk or bike to all my appointments. While it’s not my story to tell, it’s been great to connect with my aunt and her own history of moving to California, and my uncle has even driven me to trails so I can run a little bit of incline.
My mom flies out from the Chicago burbs too, to walk with me to treatment, and sits through the Enormocast learning what “belay” means.
The CA move is multiple stories on its own, and so is the moving finish line of cancer treatment. If you’re interested in more of the details and the moments along this journey, please visit kimstrom.com for all sorts of cancer running stories.
It’s a huge privilege to stay a part of ALPSinsight, and to share the experiences I’ve had in the Alps. Thank you. I’m so glad that these photos and stories have inspired some of your experiences too. And this isn’t fare thee well. My own to-do list keeps growing – I hope to explore the mountains here in the US, all new territory for me, and I’ll be back to the Alps soon.
A lesson I learn over and over again is that we don’t really accomplish anything worthwhile on our own. It takes a partner, a team, a community. High fives, good vibes, teary talks, and hugs are a huge support. My friends have also graciously set up a GoFundMe as another option, and I am humbly accepting that floatation device too.
I love you ALPSinsight and the community I’ve met through these incredible mountains!
By Kim Strom