On Wednesday evening, the night before Annette’s 4th chemotherapy treatment, the two of us joined our good friend for a “social distance” hike up the mountain behind our house. This relatively steep climb winds up above our neighborhood in Bear Valley, first through some alders, then across a little tundra patch, and then to the windswept side of McHugh Peak. This isn’t a tough hike, but the climb is mostly uphill the entire way, with few flat spots. Unless you’re one of our badass Alaska mountain runners, or hike steep slopes regularly, you’d take a few breaks along the way to catch your breath. And the view is as breath-taking as the climb --- a sweeping vista of Cook Inlet, Anchorage fifteen hundred feet below, and the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Range and Denali in the distance.
Before Annette began her treatments, when we walked in our neighborhood, she would stop for a breath on the ridiculously steep roads leading to our house, the tumor pressing against her lungs. There are no more stops on those walks. On Wednesday, as we made our way up the mountain, we paused only few times, and we made only one quick water stop. We quit not far from the mountain ridge, not because she was tired, but because she wanted to save some energy for the treatment in the morning. We sat down on the rocks for a quick snack and enjoyed what is one of the most spectacular views in the area, then breezed down the mountain in no time.
I share this story with you as a way to know how Annette is doing. Hiking the mountain is a bit of a metaphor for how this whole process works. One day, she
’s on top of the world, and then today, one day after the 4th treatment, there is a bit of a valley. That is the lowest part. A later start in the morning. Zoom a work meeting (yes, she’s still working some!). A few afternoon naps on the couch. Then a shorter walk (around our neighborhood – see also the note about ridiculously steep roads above) then some yummy dinner someone dropped off for us, stream a show, eat some ice cream, and then off to bed.
Day two post chemo, and Annette will be up earlier, napping less, walking longer and doing all sorts of work around the house. I’ll still be napping and eating ice cream.
Her energy will begin to make the rebound with each passing day, and if you were to draw a graph to show her increase in activity, your sketch would look like the side of a mountain. I knew when I married her that she was tough. I made sure of that with plenty of zero-star accommodations while camping or traveling. We’ve ran a marathon together, and half-marathons, and ski marathons, and been through the valley of loss and mourning together. Each time, to rise and climb again.
Now, as she makes the climb, it’s towards a new goal. On the 18th of May she will go in for the PET scan. This scan will chart the path forward
for her future treatments and determine if the tumor is dead or has dissolved enough to be done with the bi-weekly dances with chemo and its red devil. I see this scan as a trail obstacle of sorts, the kind we encounter all the time when we’re out hiking. A momma moose and her calf. A sow bear with cubs. Coyotes with a moose surrounded. Friends. Former governors. Celebrities. Sometimes we’re turned back. Others, we stop and rest. Often, we find a way around.
Whatever the case with this scan, we will know what the next steps are, and with a nod of thanks to all your support, we’ll have a path forward. One thing is for certain: this is a challenge that Annette can handle. She’ll be standing above all this very soon.