On Saturday, September 20 I want you to climb with me. It is on September 20 for each of the past three years that I have made a trek/Climb up Signal Hill in St. John’s with a growing group of supporters. I’m going to do it again this year and I want you to climb with me, whether you are on Signal Hill in St. John’s or on any other set of stairs, hill or mountain in the world.
The RealTime Cancer Climb happens on September 20 every year as that is the day in 1999 when I took my first unaided steps after leaving the Intensive Care Unit in August of that same year. I left the hospital under the care of my family, 100 per cent dependent on them for my every need outside of breathing. I was able to breathe on my own, and I have learned that that is perhaps the most significant accomplishment of my life.
I spent 41 days in hospital in the summer of 1999, most of which was in the ICU, and most of that was on life-support in a coma. After waking from my sleep I was unable to do anything for myself. The infections I had that summer completely destroyed my muscles and I was challenged to rebuild completely.
When I left the hospital on September 3, my physiotherapist estimated that it would take me four to six weeks to get back on my feet and walking with my walker. After arriving home I soon began to focus my energy on this challenge and realized that getting back on my feet would be a major step in regaining my independence.
My early “work-outs” consisted of pulling myself up-right using the arms of my hospital bed. As my strength increased I was able to lower the back of my bed and eventually I could pull myself up lying flat on the bed. As my upper-body strength improved I was able to work on the legs, initially just swinging my legs over the end of my bed and using my walker to stand up straight… that was the extent of my work-outs. As the days passed I found myself using the walker less and less and ultimately on September 20, 1999 I made this big five-step journey from my hospital bed to the couch.
The next year I felt it would be fitting for me to tackle Signal Hill in St. John’s to mark the anniversary of that accomplishment. In 2000 I climbed the Hill with 170 supporters, in 2001 that grew substantially to 400, and last year we were over 600 on the Hill with more than 100 people climbing with us in spirit all over the world.
The Climb is an event that represents the possibility… the possibility that when things look to be done, when they look to have only one obvious conclusion… when things look as though the end is near and predictable there is always a place for HOPE.
When I was in ICU there were times when my doctors called my family in explaining that “it could be any hour now.” There were times when my doctors wouldn’t discuss the possibility that I might get better only focusing on the next hour, there were times when my doctors gave my less than a two per cent chance of ever coming out of ICU.
By so many medical accounts I never should have been around to take those first steps on September 20, 1999. I have heard of so many stories of other patients having similar experiences and not making it out of ICU, but for some reason or many reasons I did.
So on September 20 every year I make the effort, some years it’s much more effort than others, but I get myself and as many people as possible to come up that Hill with me. It represents a day when someone was able to do something that many people never thought would ever happen again. I believe “can” is not hidden within the word cancer by mistake. There are no coincidences. You have to believe that.
Last year’s Climb was very special for two reasons. There were people climbing in so many remote locations, all over Newfoundland and Labrador, across Canada and the world. And I want to get you all climbing again this year, if you are on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador or in Halifax there will be organized Climbs in your area and it would be great to have you come out. And wherever you are I want you to know that if you have interest to Climb I will send you a Climb package, including your Climb shirt, so that you may tackle a set of stairs, a hill or a mountain on September 20.
The other very special reason last year’s Climb was such an amazing experience is because of two very exceptional people who climbed with me. My buddy Ailyena traveled from Nova Scotia to be on Signal Hill with me that day and we went stride for stride to the top, even though mine are about twice as long as her’s. And my buddy Philip Nash, just six months after his Bone Marrow Transplant, climbed the Hill all the way to the top. It was such an amazing sight to see him on the Hill that day. No quit in him, he was the last one up the Hill that evening but he wouldn’t stop until he got to the top.
My buddy Philip died last December just a week before Christmas. Those of you on my email group may remember a message I wrote about him titled “Human Spirit.” This year’s Climb is dedicated to the memory of my buddy Philip.
So wherever you are, up the street from me here in St. John’s, on the other side of the country or world, I want you to Climb with me. If you have interest to get a Climb package please let me know and I’ll get one to you. And if you want to check out the past Climb’s and learn more about this year’s and how you can get involved go to the RealTime Cancer Climb section of the web site.
Count on hearing from me again soon.
Live life. Love life.