|Garin Park. The San Francisco Bay in the Background. The|
thin strip of land beyond it is the San Francisco Peninsula
The Upper Ridge Trail in Northern California's Garin Park, is accessible after hiking a rigorous ascent with little shade. The hills are green in the late spring, making this is a favorite hike taken with my Schnauzer-terrier dog Roxie. The California poppy flowers paint the hills bright
orange. So today I am standing on the ridge looking at the bright blue sky, green and orange patterns on the hills, and beyond that the San Francisco Bay. The coastal hills of the San Francisco Peninsula border the horizon. An awesome view. It is May 2014.
Twenty-three years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was forty-one, with three children under the age of seven, still nursing my youngest. My mother died from this disease when fifty. Scared I was. After six months of chemo, my body was frail, most of my hair gone. Gradually, I felt normal, but never really recovered from the physical and emotional shock and the specter of death. Then, in 1995, I underwent a second mastectomy along with more radiation treatments.
It felt like the vitality I experienced all my life was sucked out, never to return. Where was the New York girl who loved being out in nature, hiking, swimming, skiing, physically active and very much alive? Where was the young mother who successfully gave birth to three beautiful children, the woman who couldn't wait to go camping and on hiking excursions with them and teach them how to ski? Where was the wife who anticipated a long healthy journey together with her husband and children?
She was gone.
After my second surgery, a good friend suggested I join a gym with her and swim. When I was a child, our East Coast home bordered a pond. Every day in the summer, I was in the water. The cancer made me feel betrayed by a body that had never let me down. All my life, health was mine to enjoy.
How could my body allow cancer to settle in? So, I was skeptical this plan would make me feel better. The swimming wasn't difficult. It relaxed me. Gradually, I challenged myself to do laps and use the exercise equipment in the gym, becoming more energized and stronger with each workout. Eventually, my body felt normal again. I experienced physical and emotional recovery simultaneously!
Today, up on the ridge, I think about the past two decades and experience a deep sense of thankfulness. God knew what it would take for me to feel right again. I was provided with the opportunity to recover my losses.
My cancer journey took me into the valley of despair and the slough of despond for awhile. There was what appeared an insurmountable mountain to climb. I didn't want to try. God encouraged me to trust enough to begin the hike up, one step at a time. I bought the membership for the gym, swam and ceased wondering if I'd ever make it to the summit. Here I am on the ridge today, physically fit, emotionally calm, looking back with gratitude.