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Climbing with cancer/chemo

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BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

I've met plenty of cancer survivors at the crag and gym, but so far as I know, no one else with cancer or undergoing adjuvant chemo.

So, are there any other cancerous crushers out there? Metastatic mashers? Tumorous ascentionists? Not looking to start some kind of weird club or anything, just looking to hear experiences from others who are continuing to climb despite their naughty DNA and or chemotherapy/radiation/immunotherapy and so on.

QdeBees · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 5

I'm doing it, or trying to.  Climbed straight through a round of oral chemo/radiation, and that actually seemed to help me get an excellent result. But got weak at the end, also hand-foot syndrome which means painful/blistering hands/feet.  Now on adjuvent.  I don't climb with a pump attached.  Have a row of days during/after infusion when I feel too crummy and weak, but then get back into it.  I tape a sponge over the port to minimize bruising in case I scrape it.  (Port is into jugular vs. subclavian -- this allows you to raise your arm over your head.  Bruises a bit when I climb hard, but nothing terrible - surgeon OK'd climbing with it.)  Seems like the energy slowly comes back up between treatments, and I climb better.  Then it's time for another treatment and back in the hole.  I am lucky to have a couple of kind and understanding partners.  Be sure to get lots of rest and hydrate extra well.  Good luck to you! 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

He is not a climber, but I am filling in shifts for a coworker, in a hard, physically demanding job. He is working extra hours (short staffed), almost full time, taking a class that involves overnight clinical hours, and, chemo. 

I have no idea how he even manages just the part I'm doing (I'm trashed by it), but I know it has everything to do with his attitude and doggedness to keep going. He is one tough dude.

Definitely a trait I see in climbers all the time.

Wishing you the best. You and heaps of others, too, unfortunately. Too many vets in this boat, IMO.

Best, OLH

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Yeah, the infusion pump sucks. I can climb pretty much the day after port disconnect, with the only lingering side effects being neuropathy in my hands and feet and tiredness. I have not had any of the hand foot syndrome, thankfully. The neuropathy makes it hard to hydrate at the gym though - I choke on cold liquids for about four days following treatments. The gym staff think I'm a weirdly fussy guy because I always request non-refrigerated gatorades.

I cover my port with a padded neoprene shoulder brace and can still climb 5.12- pretty comfortably on bolts. My harder gear climbing seems to have suffered a bit more, maybe because I don't have the same endurance to fiddle with gear?

What kind of chemo are you on? I'm rocking the FOLFOX train for the past half year after the cancer decided to give FOLFIRI a big fuck you after about 7 months of treatments and surgeries. 

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Wow, guess we really are a rare breed. One of the reasons for starting this thread is because I wanted folks to see that:

A) A cancer diagnosis, even advanced stage such as my case, is NOT the end of the world.

B) chemotherapy sucks, but likewise  it isn't crippling in all cases (in many, it certainly is). In many cases you can continue your life as it was, with slight modifications and changes.

C) cancer is a disease that will affect many people in this community, some earlier in life than others (I am unusually young for my particular diagnosis). Cancer and chemo are not mutually exclusive with climbing.

Climbing has helped carry me through the many surgeries, treatments, and bad news that have come my way in the past year. When I received news that I had gone terminal, I went climbing. Before each scan, I spend my weekends at the New River Gorge. Climbing helped to break up the scar tissue from a major abdominal surgery, helped me to retain muscle mass and cardiovascular health. Plus, I get bonus points for hauling extra tumor weight up each climb - I get to add two letter grades to everything because cancer.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Brian, I don't think you are the only one, rare hopefully, but if you start thinking about younger people and cancer, camps, outdoor programs, rope courses and climbing become part of the treatment. MP is a tiny portion of climbers, within that, a tiny portion look at the forums, a tiny portion of those, actually post.

All of us bring our own "stuff" into this climbing game. Yours is far more serious than usual, but climbing is keeping more than just you alive and a great many of us more lively than we would be without it.

I have no idea what your time span is, most of us don't know at all, but making the most of what we've got is about the best we can do.

Thanks for posting this thread, and the earlier port one also. You may not get to be an old, bold, climber, but you are a total bold badass in my book, no matter your climbing ability at any moment.

Best, Helen

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Thanks. Yes, there are plenty of camps and programs that take cancer patients outdoors or indoors to climb, but they aren't exactly part of the climbing community. Not the same in my book. 

 I do know of a very notable local ascentionist and developer who has dealt with multiple battles with cancer, separated by decades. Still climbs strong as a MF. 

Another buddy of mine, a very strong boulderer and great setter, received a stage IV diagnosis recently and began climbing again in the middle of a *brutal* form of chemo (nicknamed the Red Death/Devil). He is the true badass in the room.

Bottom line, cancer and chemo suck - there's no denying this. But, as climbers we shouldn't need to fear the loss of our passion because of the disease or treatments.

AndrewArroz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

Sorry to hear you're dealing with cancer. You might take a look at my now-gone friend Steve Edward's site

Steve was a phenomenal climber and put up many routes all over SoCal and Utah, among other places. He was meticulous about documenting things and there's a tab on that site called "Cancer" that will take you to plenty of articles he wrote about it. I know he climbed through his entire journey with cancer, even when it meant he could only traverse along the bottom of the crag.

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 125

I got back into climbing (after a decade away from it) about 8 months following my treatment, mainly because I lost 60 pounds through chemo and radiation so I was light enough to haul my arse off the deck again.  During chemo I was playing golf once a round, but even through that, I saw my strength drop considerable over the 2 month period.  There is no way I could have climbed through radiation, I was barely able to make it 4 hours without a nap or walk a few 100 yards or so without a rest.  My port never bothered me, but I did end up with a feeding tube, so that would have definitely kept me away from the crag, at least while I was actively pumping Soylent Green into my intestines.  I am not sure if my partners would have been cool with me belaying, seeing how I was on a pretty strong dose of transdermal Fentanyl.

For all you guys that are crushing away while on treatment, or just getting back to it after, I salute you.  Brian, I hope you beat the odds and shock the heck out of your doctors, but it sounds like you are living your life on your terms, which is as much as any of us can hope for.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Brian, my dad died of pancreatic cancer at the relatively young age of barely seventy. He made it almost a full year, with a prognosis of four weeks tops. This, back when morphine was pretty much it for treatment, and he stayed off that until the very, very end.

I'm glad you have a few others you know of, but word will get out to others of your existence also. You are helping others, even if you never hear from them.

As you know far better than I, part one is surviving the cancer. Part two is living with the ravages of the treatment. The second part is only just beginning to be dealt with as a medical specialty, now that more people are surviving. 

Again, thank you. 

Badass, sir. Kindness and thinking of others count.

Best, H.

QdeBees · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 5


I am sending some good juju your way -- you deserve every bit of a fighting chance and more.  And you are right, that while you are alive, the point is to live furiously and enjoy whatever you can, however you construe that.  I salute you -- get bad news, go climbing.   

The chemo seems to hit some people very very hard, so for them, climbing's not a good idea.  But for you and me and some others -- yes.  Even  on days when I cannot climb, I do better if I get moving, and try to be social.  Gives me something to look forward to.  My friends to talk to.  Etc. Mumphing = no good. 

I'm impressed at how hard you are pulling down -- it takes me a week to get back up to a hard grade, and I need more time between climbs, and more rest between climbing sessions to make anything happen.  But sumthing's way better than nuthin, right?!  (But I'm also probably a lot older than you -- older than ol Lady H...)  Hey, I like that idea about adding 2 letter grades!  I can set a world record... you too.  

I'm not sure that we are a rare breed, but I've seen that many people prefer not to talk about their cancer outside of the clinic -- sort of like talking about early pregnancy -- you don't want to jinx yourself and you don't want a lot of unwanted inquiries and/or misplaced sympathy.  I get that. I know just one other climber who has talked openly about it and kept climbing -- and he has just gone forward like a tank.  Like you.    talk about it because it keeps my head freer and I had not known anyone at all who had lived with cancer, so it was all new and 'down the rabbit hole' for me.  I hope to make it less scary for others.  And maybe myself.   I walk around looking pretty normal.  So far.  (insofar as I ever look normal)

I am on Folfox too (colon) 2 days on, 10 days off, but only my second session out of six.  Was on Xeloda with simul rads, daily for 6 wks.  The Folfox definitely roughs me up a bit more.  Today in the infusion lab I got a couple of tips on the cold liquids thing  (I was choking too, this am) -- are you gargling with baking soda water?  Also was told to get down at least a gallon of fluids daily  -- by a tiny woman told me she had beat back all chemo side effects (on something super powerful that's only in trial) with this high level of hydration.  (I think you'll have to watch the electrolytes, though).  I do not have neuropathy (knock wood) but was recommended to use CBC ointment (that's cannabinoids) by several folks.  Have been and now doing it to hopefully prevent or minimize.  I'm in Colorado so it's legal here.  Send me PM if this is of interest.  

(OK, for all the looky-loos on this thread, that was probably TMI, but it will not hurt you to hear what happens when you get the big C. )

Brian  -- I would love to hear from you as you go forward, however you are doing.  Your attitude and courage are inspiring to me.  If I can do anything to help your spirits or your health or your climbing, just ping me.  

I'm not really a hugger, but for you -- here are some metaphorical hugs at a distance.  Keep well, all the best,  

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 125
Old lady H wrote:

 Part two is living with the ravages of the treatment. 

I would say that the ravages of treatment are overstated.  Sure, YMMV, but treatment has progressed in leaps and bounds, and treatment is no longer as nasty nor as impactful on the rest of one's life.  And with very few exceptions, I would hazard a guess that living with the ravages of treatment (altered taste buds, less saliva output, mild neuropathy and some dental issues in my case) far outweighs the alternative.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790
Matt Himmelstein wrote:

I would say that the ravages of treatment are overstated.  Sure, YMMV, but treatment has progressed in leaps and bounds, and treatment is no longer as nasty nor as impactful on the rest of one's life.  And with very few exceptions, I would hazard a guess that living with the ravages of treatment (altered taste buds, less saliva output, mild neuropathy and some dental issues in my case) far outweighs the alternative.

Treatments for colorectal and other solid tumors are comparatively gentle, especially with advances in the medications for countering side effects (esp antiemetics). 

As you said, ymmv. I have had minimal hair thinning, only puked once when I forgot to take my meds to work, and the worst side effect that I have are low platelet counts and a mildly angry liver. In comparison, an aunt of mine was given radiation and flouroacil alone to treat stage II rectal cancer and the diarrhea alone nearly killed her. She is also struggling to accept her ostomy and feels, well, quite ravaged by her ordeal - she, unlike myself, is in full remission though.

I know that I am extremely fortunate to be able to climb immediately after chemo, let alone at all.

sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60

I don't have much expereince to share but want to say you are one tough dude. I'm impressed you can climb harder than most people (such as myself) even with the battle your body is going through. When I read you gone terminal, my heart sank because why go through the rigors of chemo in vain.  I'm sorry this happened to you so young (judging from skin quality in port pic).

I agree climbing is something that helps me temporarily forget problems and is a gift. I'm glad you can climb through this ordeal even if for a short while longer. Some ailments a sufferer can't, like FOP, where muscles & ligaments turn into bone to freeze the person into a statue. Not to minimize your plight and courageousness. Maybe in your next life you can climb again.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Terminal doesn't mean imminent death. It just means the cancer cannot be cured and completely removed via surgery/chemo. for terminal patients who are reactive to chemo and can handle the long term toxicity, you can control and manage disease spread and progression - sometimes for years.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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