Cancer and Courage, our Mount Everest

Mt Aspiring

Courage is a very powerful word when you look behind its meaning…

“…to have courage is to have the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation”.

The word courage has been casually discussed around our dinner table amongst family and close friends in the context of my journey to the mountains, a journey that one day will lead me towards the summit of Mount Everest, fulfilling the dream of a young boy who has always believed that anything is possible –  just believe in that dream!

This week my sister Debbie, who is affectionately known to us as Merle, and I spoke about my journey and what it meant for her. Whilst she is an exceptionally talented musician and accomplished athlete it seems she never got that climbing and mountaineering gene.

And rest assured, I never got that musical gene. If they handed out awards for singing in the shower I’d still go home empty handed.

But as we spoke on the telephone tears rolled silently down my face…

Recently, Deb was diagnosed with cancer, a cancer that has taken a significant hold on her body in a relatively short period of time.

And here she was encouraging me to chase my dream, assuring me that she took great strength from my dream and my journey – and making me promise that no matter what happens to her that I must continue on my journey.

As we spoke she explained that the cancer that has infected her precious body is her own Mount Everest.

She reached out and said…

“Baz, take my hand and we will climb our own Mount Everest together, one step at a time, for that is the only way”.

Deb, Merle sent the following note to her many friends recently and I want to share it with you. I’m hopeful that it will inspire, inspire those who perhaps face their own Mount Everest…

Yes, courage is a very powerful word and I learnt its true meaning this week…

 The Beginning of a New Chapter

By “Merle”

A wonderful sister...
Merle, A  beautiful sister…

I am beginning a very important journey. So much to achieve, new directions to take, challenges to overcome, happiness to be found….endless opportunities to grab hold of. A time to redefine, evolve and embrace life to the fullest.

With the love and support of my family and dear friends, long standing and new, it will hopefully be a celebration of the human spirit that lives within us all. I am blessed that I have today and the time to make each moment count… moments that we can reflect and smile upon. Moments of “BEING” whatever that may be and wherever it may takes us.

I will be taking each precious day at a time and endeavouring to seek all the happiness and joy each of them bring. I will be promoting and encouraging all who know me to do the same. My one wish and only wish is for everyone to not focus on the disease (that is the doctor’s job) it is what it is. Find the love, joy, precious “ididocic” (idiotic) moments filled with laughter and all the happiness in the world during this time. NOT EASY…CHALLENGES NEVER ARE…DEFINITELY DOABLE!!!!

I understand this is a big ask for all who stand on the perimeter of watching someone they love go through this. To me, it is counter-productive to dissect and try to analyse and make sense of this disease consuming my body. It would obscure the human spirit that defines ME as a person…I am most afraid of losing sight of who I am in all this. If you can help, it would be beneficial not only for me, but ALL of us, please participate however and in whatever way you can to… HELP ME…REMIND ME…REMEMBER AND ENHANCE THE MEMORIES!!! For after all, this chapter is NOT ALL ABOUT ME. It is about ALL of us and what we gain from this experience.

CONFRONTING…yes, very much so. If not confronted we have not the opportunity to overcome this.

SCARY…mmmm!!! I imagine it could be at times. I do believe, always have, that knowledge and sharing is powerful. The understanding gained and shared puts things in perspective and allows you to take away or minimise the “scariness” to some degree.

SAD….definitely, we will all feel it. Sadness is a positive emotion, I believe it shows how much we truly treasure, connect and love each other. It is an emotion to not hide…we cannot be BRAVE all the time, that would be counter-productive, and we would go insane. Release the tears, smile and begin again.

“IDIDOCIC” MOMENTS…Yes please, lots and lots of them!!!   Also remember past “ididocic” experiences and share with everyone who will listen. Laugh, BIG belly laughs and rejoice!!!!

I am looking forward to the moments we will all share and I am truly blessed, humbled and consider myself the most fortunate person on this earth to have such beautiful people in my life. Thank you for being you and hold on…this journey is going to be a big one with lots of opportunities.

Love Merle x x x

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Angels, Friends and Lovers

Recently someone asked who is the “Janet” that regularly features in my stories, and suggesting she must be an Angel from above to put up with me.

Um, no it wasn’t Clare, Janet’s mother, but crikey, wouldn’t we be rich if a had a dollar for every time she has, bless her soul…

But just like Tinkerbell, Janet is sweet and sassy, a friend to all…

Literally, the girl next door, yep over the back fence next door, Janet (Planet) and I have been friends for a lifetime…

…Having fun, flying and jumping out of planes together, abseiling off tall buildings, and trekking through some of the wildest jungles on the planet in Papua New Guinea, where we lived for a number of years…

Other times you’ll see us sitting quietly around a camp fire, soaking up the Australian Outback as the sun slips below the western horizon with not another soul in sight for hundred’s of kilometres…

And in those tender moments, spending the night in a lover’s embrace on a remote South Pacific Island.

Strewth, we would not have it any other way.

And TomO, well he’s the jewel in our lives, the creation of the heady mix of two young lovers and remote South Pacific Island’s…

And rest assured, he seems to have our sense of adventure and has already suggested he will stand on top of Mount Everest with me…

Dream big and it will happen I say, so don’t rule it out…that journey is well under way!

Of course, we can’t leave out our best friend, Milo, the wonder dog! The world’s most lovable Border Collie…

In Janet’s words – You boys don’t know how lucky you are…

And ain’t that the truth!

Ps: We’re off to a remote exotic island in the South Pacific in a couple of weeks time 😉

Baz, The Landy

Reacquainted with an old mate (The shed!)

Baz - What a view
Baz – What a view

After seven weeks of rest, recuperation, rehabilitation, and a bit of hibernation I found it very liberating to be back up in the shed this week doing what I love, something that is part of my everyday existence, my every day ritual – exercise.

 A little over a week ago I gave the rehabilitation boot, the boot, literally, after getting the all okay from the doctor, and strewth, how good was that!

Recovery

 Geez, you never want to take mobility for granted, it’s a bugger when you lose it!

For those that are new, having a seniors moment, or maybe just missed it, I had an Achilles operation on my left foot, and a spur clearance on my right ankle about seven weeks ago…

Yes, to legs out of action at the same time, lucky for me though I had Janet and TomO taking good care of me!

After climbing in New Zealand during January it became very obvious to me that if I am to continue pursuing my dream of scaling some of the world’s highest mountains, heaven forbid, maybe even Mount Everest, than something had to be done to fix these problems that had been progressively getting worse.

Baz - Climbing in New Zealand
Baz – Climbing in New Zealand

The rehabilitation phase is well under way I am being extremely well cared for by my wonderful physiotherapist, Paula, from the Joint Health Clinic in downtown Sydney.

 And can I just say this, crikey, how good is it to be back up in the shed.

The Shed
The Shed

A bit of The Angels, one of my favourite Aussie rock bands, belting out of those little Bose speakers to get me motivated, the sound of free weights moving and some time on my new spin bike.

Even the neighbours are happy to hear that music signifying that I am slowly, but surely, returning to normal.  Yeah, okay, maybe they could do with a little less of The Angels.

 And on climbing?

Well it is far too early to return to the mountains, in fact I wouldn’t be able to squeeze on my rock climbing shoes, that is a hard task even under normal circumstances, but the swelling would make it an impossible task presently.

Baz - just stretch yourself
Baz – just stretch yourself

 And what about those big mountains?

Well, if I were to be brutally honest with myself, I would most likely come to the conclusion that my trip to Nepal this year is slowly slipping away from me.  Whilst the recovery is right on track, it was always going to be a very marginal thing as to whether I recover in time or not.

 But in the true style of an eternal and ever optimistic Sagittarian I’m not discounting it yet.

But here is the deal, climbing mountains isn’t a bucket list thing for me that I can just tick off, but something I want to live, enjoy, relish in, and return from.  So being in peak condition is key to my safety and that of those around me.

 The mountains will always be there.

But there is plenty of adventure in my sights regardless, including this year’s Hawkesbury Classic Kayak Race, 111-gruelling kilometres down the Hawkesbury River, and if I don’t get to Nepal, I’m confident of lining up in next year’s Coast-to-Coast Race, a cycle, run, and kayak race that takes you 243-kilometres across New Zealand’s South Island…

Baz - Terrigal Beach, Australia
Baz – Terrigal Beach, Australia

Strewth, far too much fun ahead, you just wouldn’t want to be dead for quid’s…

 And hey, good to see you again…!

Photo’s: Baz – The Landy

Climbing Mt Everest (Drinking Ovaltine all the way)

Mt Everest
Mt Everest

Looking back at old photographs is like opening a time capsule, you just never know what you are going to find and usually there are one or two little gems to bring a smile to your face.

I was at Janet’s parents home recently, Clare and Archie who are 83 and 98 years of age, and over a cup of tea we were flicking through books of old photographs. 

The themes varied from trips overseas, the children growing up, and of Archie’s  childhood in India.

Archie and younger sister Marjorie
Archie and younger sister Marjorie

You could pick any photograph and Archie would narrate a rich account of when it was taken, and the story behind those who were in it.

And there were photographs of Clare’s childhood days, growing up in far western Queensland on the family’s sheep property and of her days at boarding school in Charters Towers, far North Queensland.

Clare's Family Home - Charters Towers, North Queensland, Australia
Clare’s Family Home – Charters Towers, North Queensland, Australia

The conversation turned to our upcoming adventures and my journey to climb Cho Oyu, an 8,000 metre peak,  which is close to where Archie grew up, and if all goes well, Mt Everest.

Over the years I have listened to the many stories of Archie’s trips to Darjeeling, situated  in the foothills of the Himalaya’s and in later years of visits both he and Clare made back to Calcutta.

One story that always brings a good laugh is about a mountaineering expedition group  who turned up at the offices of James Wright and Company, General Merchants, the family business in Calcutta.  The suave and handsome couple heading the expedition  were in a rather irate mood as they stepped out of the taxi, demanding to know why they had not been met at the ship upon their arrival.

Being general merchants, Archie and his father dealt in all kind of goods, and were the agent’s in India for the popular drink Ovaltine.

“These mountaineers were here to climb Mt Everest and they were going to drink Ovaltine all the way to the top, extolling its virtues to the world.”

It had all been arranged in England prior to their departure and there was surprise and indignation that they had not been afforded the courtesies expected upon their arrival. They even had a copy of the telegram from the Head of the company that made Ovaltine in England informing of their visit.

This was a gentlemanly age and young Archie arranged for the expedition to be put up at a first class hotel where they could rest after their long sea voyage and ahead of their attempt to climb Mt Everest.

Archie
A Young Archie

And rest and avail themselves they did indeed…

Of course, there was to be no attempt on Mt Everest as the mountaineers were well practiced con people. After spending a number of nights in the luxury of the first class hotel, taking advantage of the young Fawthrop’s generous hospitality, they disappeared into the night, leaving Archie with an expensive hotel bill and the need to provide an account to his father of how he had been done by a slick group of con artists’.

But he could be forgiven, after all Ovaltine accompanied Sir Edmund Hilary on his ascent of Mt Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and the company went on to sponsor Chris Bonnington’s 1975 Everest expedition.

Archie, Clare and Tenzing

And speaking of Tenzing Norgay, as we continued our journey through the albums one particular photograph caught my attention, a black and white snapshot of Clare and Archie, with Tenzing Norgay standing beside them.

On a visit to Darjeeling, Archie and Clare met and spoke with Tenzing, a remarkable and quietly spoken man they said, whilst dining at the Darjeeling Club.

TomO was very excited at the discovery, a link to where we will travel this year when I attempt to climb three 6,000 metre peaks, Lobuche East, Island Peak, and Pokalde, all situated not too far from Mt Everest.

Baz traversing Mt Aurora
Baz traversing Mt Aurora

Was the Ovaltine story and the photograph a sign-post on our own journey, I thought.  

A connection to the region brought about from Archie’s younger days?   In the least, it will enrich the experience for us…

And as I climb in  the Himalaya’s Archie’s Ovaltine story will be sure to put a smile on my face, warming me like a hot cup of Ovaltine on a bleak winter’s night…

Baz - Meteor Peak
Baz – Meteor Peak

Crikey – Wire me up and check if I have a heart (beat)

Recently I wrote about Acute Mountain Sickness and the effects it can have on the body as you gain altitude when climbing. As we all know the human body was never designed to function at extremely high altitudes and supplemental oxygen is usually required.

And although Mt Everest and other 8,000 metre peaks have been climbed many times without the assistance of supplemental oxygen, the occurrence is rare.

I am taking a number of steps to help prepare for the climbing I am doing over the coming year. I’m training intensely to ensure I am in a peak physical condition, eating a well-balanced diet, and another consideration is to ensure that I do not have any medical conditions that might create issues for myself or others.

Monitoring the latter is an important process.

Grey's Peak New Zealand
Grey’s Peak, New Zealand

I routinely see a Specialist Sports Doctor for ailments and issues associated with exercising. I just saw him a week ago to discuss my high altitude climbing and to obtain a referral to a cardiologist so I can undergo a full coronary check-up, which is something we discussed a few months back.

I don’t expect the tests to reveal anything adverse as all indications are I am in good shape and have no family history of coronary disease. Mind you, if they do produce a negative result at least I can deal with it now!

Friday this week is my appointment day.

Well, as it would turn out I have been suffering a low level cold for the past couple of weeks, you know the type, nothing too serious to cause concern, just enough to be irritating. Janet, my partner has been suffering a full-blown cold for the past few days, although she is recovering now, and TomO, our son has also had one.

On Tuesday this week I woke up feeling a little tight in the chest, wheezing, runny nose, and feeling a little short of breathe. I’m making it sound worse than it was, but I’m a mere male and you know what we are like when it comes to being sick!

And with some rock climbing coming up this weekend in the Blue Mountains, just to the west of Sydney, I wanted to ensure I nipped this in the bud before it got any worse. Later in the day I visited my local General Medical Practitioner in the hope he had some instant cure…

mountaineering
Rock-climbing, Blue Mountains

Crikey, didn’t I open a can of worms!

After describing my symptoms he immediately sent me for an ECG, chest x-ray, and a plethora of other tests, including cholesterol, blood sugar, prostate (phew, at least I got the pathological test) and a couple of others for good measure.

I did suggest that I would be having most of these tests this Friday, but he wouldn’t be swayed. Just as well as I didn’t hear any sirens at the time otherwise I would have been in a mild big panic thinking it was an ambulance coming to collect me!

And don’t get me wrong, better to be safe than sorry, after all he has my health at forefront of mind for sure.

So there I was, lying on the bed, I had more wires on me than you could poke a stick at, and everyone asking did I have any chest pains.

It was just a common cold surely and I just wanted something to make me feel better!

As an aside, when I arrived at the reception of the pathology company the nurse reviewed my requirements, but asked would I mind waiting while she finished ordering her stores for the week. I wasn’t sure whether she meant her groceries or something for the medical practice.

Either way I didn’t mind, it was just a common cold after all I reassured myself. Geez, my heart was starting to beat a little faster by now…

About 10 minutes later when we entered the ECG room she immediately asked whether I had any chest pains.

I just chuckled to myself and said,  “no”. Really I was glad she got her stores done!

Must be an insurance thingy, maybe the waiting room is still on my watch, not theirs? Cark it in the waiting room, well bad luck, but just don’t do it in the consultation room, that’s far too much paper work…

I’m pleased to say all the tests were normal and I still have my specialist appointment tomorrow which will include a stress-test. In fact, for the most part, the results are above average for my age…

But as I was having my ECG I got to thinking that many of us exercise for fitness, health, and general well-being and we assume that it goes a long way towards that goal.

I’m sure it does.

Rowing in the Shed
Baz on the C2 Rower

But equally, there is most likely a point where you can push the body too far, a point at which the exercise undertaken may become detrimental to your health…

I can’t imagine changing anything I do, despite that possibility as I enjoy pushing to the limits, but it is always something to be mindful of!

So how much is too much, what do you reckon?