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Climbing Through Chemotherapy
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Dec 6, 2012
I'm curious if any of you have any experience with cancer. Specifically have you been able to keep your activity level up while going through chemo therapy? I had a major abdominal surgery 3 1/2 months ago so last weekend was my first time climbing since the beggining of August. My energy level was so low that I had to hang several times on a route that was once an easy warm up. My strength is reduced but still somewhat there, but doing three routes thrashed me on Sunday.
Has anyone been able to work through this? Am I just going to be a 5.9 climber until the chemo is over? I know that this will be a long process and I'm excited to work my way up to where I once was and beyond, I just would love to hear from someone that has done it before.
Chad Hammond
Joined May 28, 2009
5 points
Dec 7, 2012
I can't answer your question Chad, I just want to wish you best. This is the most inspiring thing I've seen in a long time. Keep on gettin' after it. Stephen Ackley
From Flagstaff, AZ
Joined Apr 21, 2011
565 points
Dec 7, 2012
Climb on! mcarizona
From Flag
Joined Feb 5, 2007
25 points
Dec 7, 2012
I'm amazed that you have the endurance to climb at all when undergoing chemo. Most people are either too nauseous or too weak from the treatment to do much of anything. You might have to settle for being a 5.9 climber for the time being. Chemo decreases your red blood cells, so your blood has less oxygen-carrying capacity. Also, if chemo is causing vomiting or diarrhea, electrolyte imbalances can result. Keep eating a great diet and take care of yourself. Another perspective that you just lost some endurance from lack of training. It takes longer to build endurance than it does to lose it. Sounds like you'll be back soon, though. Lorenzo Tragen
From Flagstaff, AZ
Joined Jun 23, 2011
55 points
Dec 7, 2012

It is great that you are trying to climb. Try and take things slow and figure out what you can do first. I am sure you have figured this out but you will have good days and bad. Stay positive. Don't worry about what you can't do. Try and focus on small improvements.

After the surgeries and initial treatments I wasn't able to climb for 3 to 4 months. When I came back it felt like I was starting all over. It was a long slow process. My stamina and strength were terrible. I started doing yoga everyday, eating good and I was able to improve slowly even with all the drugs I was on. I don't think my stamina was ever normal. I just had to adjust for that. I would only climb for a half day instead of a full day. You kind of have to find what works for you.

Good luck.
Ryan Suedkamp
Joined Jul 1, 2007
70 points
Dec 7, 2012
Hi Chad, I think Dane from Cold Thistle may be able to chat with you on the issue.

And good luck!
Bang Nhan
From Charlottesville, VA
Joined Dec 12, 2010
0 points
Dec 7, 2012
Bang wrote:
Hi Chad, I think Dave from Cold Thistle may be able to chat with you on the issue. And good luck!

His name is Dane, but yeah.

This link will take you to all his posts containing the word "cancer." Good luck with your fight. We're all rooting for you!

Jon H
From Boulder
Joined Nov 24, 2009
13 points
Dec 7, 2012
Hello Chad,

First of all, I want to congratulate you on having the courage to make the decision to go through with chemotherapy. As I'm sure you know, it is not an easy process for neither you nor your family to endure.

It must be quite frustrating for you to have such a hard time climbing routes that were once very easy for you but it is important to have realistic expectations for the time being.

While I believe this topic is most appropriate for discussion between you and your physician, I am in my final year in pharmacy school and know the drugs fairly well and would be happy to do my best to counsel you on your chemotherapeutic regimen. If interested, feel free to send me an e-mail (or post in here) a brief history of your cancer and the agents you are currently taking. I'd be happy to make an itemized list of each agent and how they will affect not only your climbing abilities but your overall well being.

Take care,

Bryan Brinda
From GNV, FL
Joined May 30, 2011
0 points
Dec 7, 2012
Thank you for the link to cold thistle. It looks like an excellent resource.
I initially was very much against chemo therapy. I felt that the risks far outweighed the potential benefits. I had a mucus based cancer that spread from my appendix through my abdominal cavity. It's called adenocarcinoma. Since it is fairly rare, there is not much data on the subject of whether chemo is effective. My oncologist recommended a regimen of cape/ox. I get an infusion every three weeks and take pills for two weeks after each infusion. Two weeks on, one week off. The cape/ox has fewer side effects and is slightly less toxic than the typical folfox regimen. I decided to do it because if this thing returns, I have to be able to look in the mirror and say that I did absolutely everything that I could to beat it.
I realize that my initial post sounds like I'm mostly worried about grades. I'm not. I'm most concerned with being able to get out and stay out there for more than a climb or two. It was amazing to get out last weekend after the last few months. I went out to java dome in the s. Platte and did two long and awesome 5.6 slabs with my wife. Then Sunday I was able to go to the dog house in clear creek and see the guys while trying the easier routes on that wall. I just had to get outside.
Chad Hammond
Joined May 28, 2009
5 points
Dec 7, 2012
Jon H wrote:
His name is Dane, but yeah. This link will take you to all his posts containing the word "cancer." Good luck with your fight. We're all rooting for you! ColdThistle

Ahhh, my bad!
Bang Nhan
From Charlottesville, VA
Joined Dec 12, 2010
0 points
Dec 7, 2012
I was happy to get up a 5.6 when I was going thru chemo. Don't worry about the grades, just be happy that you're out climbing and stay positive. Ed Wright
Joined May 14, 2006
35 points
Dec 7, 2012
Hey Chad,

I can't speak to climbing during chemo, but I can speak to climbing after colon cancer and a partial colectomy. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 colon cancer at the age of 30 on June 28th, 2011 and had surgery July 12th, 2011 and while I didn't get on rock until the following spring, I did spend all fall and winter hiking and climbing ice. For me, the biggest obstacle to overcome after surgery was the lack of core strength and the worry that if I pushed it too hard I'd tear something. Now for me, climbing 5.9 is good no matter what kind of shape I'm in, so I can't talk about climbing .11's and .12's, but that's what I can offer. I know you shouldn't feel bad about what you're doing. For now just enjoy doing. Things could always be worse.
Sorry to hear about your situation, but I can tell you that cancer can be pretty cool if you can see it as an opportunity to live more fully and with fewer regrets. I know a lot of positive things have come my way in the midst of this. I'm happy to chat if you want. Feel free to PM if you'd like...

-Brian Threlkeld
Brian Threlkeld
From Portland, Maine
Joined Dec 3, 2010
0 points
Dec 7, 2012
Stay Strong, Climb On and F@ck Cancer! Tits McGee
From Boulder, CO
Joined Apr 23, 2008
205 points
Dec 8, 2012
It's important to remember that chemotherapy is broad terminology - there's a lot of different drugs out there and just as many different cancers. When I was diagnosed with AML Leukemia September 2011 I spent 36 days in the hospital with my initial "induction round of chemotherapy" and lost over forty pounds off an already thin frame. I developed an infection in my GI tract associated with chemotherapy and suppressed immune systems and was fed through an IV for three weeks. After that I returned to climbing lightly (literally lighter) but my personal struggle with cancer has been very severe and the folly of climbing through it has proven to be unrealistic.

I managed to begin climbing again 45 days after an allogenic bone-marrow transplant last February and was back to climbing 5.10 trad in a couple of months - which I thought damn good considering most allogenic bone-marrow transplant patients refrain from going outdoors for at least 100 days post transplant and it is said to take upwards of 5 years to fully recover. I loved the feeling of climbing again after the bone-marrow transplant - I was soooo weak and yet I remembered how to climb. I was forced to focus on climbing "smart" and rely on my technique as opposed to my strength. In the four months I was in remission I managed to return to easy 5.11 sport and 5.10 trad. Once stuff got steep though it spit me. Before I was diagnosed I was bouldering solid V8, 5.12 sport, and5.11 trad in the alpine.

I relapsed in July and have undergone four more separate rounds of chemotherapy and two DLI (donor leukocyte infusion). It's been sixteen months since it all began, I throw up just about every day, piss blood, and keep on fighting in hopes of winning my life back and climbing again. No school, no work, no women, no fun, just pain and suffering, lots of narcotics, alienation, and loneliness. In the last 16 months I've spent over 200 days IN the hospital... I'm getting so goddamn sick of nurses. When people ask me if I'm still climbing, or tell me to "keep your tools sharp, bra, you might need em by the end of the season!" - I want to punch them in their fucking faces.

Rant over - cancer sucks - it's always cool to see people psyched on "climbing through cancer", but guess what - if you're climbing through your cancer experience - you're very fortunate, because there's a hell of a lot of people out there who are slowly dying through their experiences, and how tough you are, and what a bad ass you are, doesn't matter to cancer, it'll kill you just the same.
Kevin Landolt
From Fort Collins, Wyoming
Joined Jun 1, 2009
580 points
Dec 8, 2012
Ed Wright wrote:
Don't worry about the grades, just be happy that you're out climbing and stay positive.

I could bore you all with a deeply personal story, but I will spare you. If I did take the time to share my story, I would end my writing with a quote similar to Eds'.

The grading system has value in the climbing world but in reality, it should have little in determining the "fun factor" of our days on the rock..
roger fritz from rockford, IL
From Rockford, IL
Joined Aug 9, 2009
20 points
Dec 9, 2012
Andrew Bisharat's TNB piece on Eric Scully contains some insight towards Eric's experience of climbing and fighting cancer.

I wish you the best Chad!
Alex McIntyre
From Tucson, AZ
Joined Jan 14, 2011
350 points
Dec 9, 2012
Thanks, Kevin, for your hard but true words. I hope you get through this latest battle, it sounds like hell but you sound like the type to give it hell. Keep your spirit strong. Colonel Mustard
From Sacramento, CA
Joined Sep 13, 2005
1,055 points
Dec 9, 2012
Well after reading these posts now i know there is no excuse for why i cant climb 5.12. Thanks for the inspiration and i hope all is well. Christopher Gibson
From Frisco, Texas
Joined Feb 13, 2012
0 points
Dec 9, 2012

if you are able to rack up and hit the rock in any way shape or form while on chemo you are extremely lucky. enjoy what you are able to do and realize that you are in the minority as far as chemo patients go.

the biggest issue i remember with doing physical activities while on chemo was to get out of the mindset of being stubborn and forcing myself do stuff just to prove I could.

there will be days when you can give a good effort, and days when you really need the rest.

listen to your body.

not only will your performance drop (who cares, just do easier classics) but the recovery time after exertion will skyrocket. rest up well. eat well, go after highly alkaline foods and hydrate like crazy.

when it's all over, all the ability can come back. i was about 190lbs and solid before chemo, went down to <160 during. been at a lean and strong 175-80 since and in way better climbing shape. of course I was extremely lucky....


fuck man.
you are in a true battle.
keep fighting.
stay positive.
give it hell.
keep being a tough bastard.
you know all this already.
good luck!
Joined Sep 5, 2011
90 points
Dec 9, 2012
To Chad and Kevin,
Much respect to both of you for talking about this. I have nothing but respect and love for both of you! You both are in my prayers.
All the best,
Jeff Kent
From Sedona, Az
Joined Oct 10, 2012
0 points
Dec 10, 2012
Chad, my wife climbed as long as she could while she was in treatment for colorectal cancer over a 5 1/2 year period. When we lived in Colorado we passed the Puox on I-70 and would stop there on the way home from her radiation therapy. There was one day in particular at Rifle (no, neither of us climb hard sport routes) on one of the few easy routes there she would not back down and did not like to hang. Determined to figure out this one move she kept at it and finally made it. A few days later she became rather ill, IMO I think she stressed herself way too much. She developed a fear factor even on top rope, she could not relax until she actually fell. To avoid falling she would grip harder and really stressed herself. I think the extra adrenaline was too much for her system.

When the cancer metastsized to her lungs we moved to NY to be closer to her family and to be near NYC for more treatment options. We climbed in the Gunks as often as possible - she insisted on parking in the lot with the long stairs so she could gauge her fitness and actually got stronger for a while. But then things progressed until we had to use the handicapped spot at the Carriage road so the walk was level and shorter. When she was no longer able to climb she offered to come belay me so we could still get out together. I stopped climbing about a year ago, she entered hospice May 8th and passed away July 16th 10 days before her 53rd birthday. Climbing, skiing, mt biking were all things she loved to do and held on to the hope a new drug would come along that would give her a little more time and a little more strength.

My point is be easy with yourself and your expectations, try to gauge the effect treatment has on you, climb when you feel the strongest within the cycle of chemo and then take it easy to allow for recovery.

to Kevin: You have all the right to be angry,know one knows what you are going through. Judy and I talked about getting angry but at what? At the same time its important to feel whatever emotion is coming up. You say you have no support, is there anyone you can turn to for help? I was surprised by the lack of help from those we thought we could count on and the support we received from people we did not know that well. People would offer assistance in a vague non-comittal way - a social worker told me you have to tell them specifically what you need done and when.

"CANCER SUCKS" and to be able to climb or be active while in treatment more power to you. As a climber for over 30 yrs. climbing is the one thing I always come back to after an injury or life circumstance. Holding onto the idea of returning to a former level of performance can be a good motivator in terms of not losing hope. A drug Judy was on in a clinical trial seemed to be reversing the lung mets or a least kept them from getting larger. Judy maintained a level of optimism and would talk about a climb she wanted to do or getting back on her mtn bike. Then that drug quit working and the lung nodules got bigger and progressed rather rapidly. Next we found out the cancer had spread to her brain, she would rebound from one procedure only to get hit with something else. Her Buddhist practice and our close relationship with our teacher became the primary support as her health continued to decline. Seeing how she was able to accept her situation was admirable, she never complained and when we went for chemo or to the hospital for tests she always asked about the person helping her, how they were or would compliment them in some way. She taught me a lot about how to live life less about me. Yes cancer sucks - It took away the love of my life, my best friend and the most patient climbing partner.

Now its time to focus on my health and get my life back in order. Cancer effects the whole family. I put my own health needs aside over the past few years to be available to care for her - in hindsight I could have done things differently but thats the past time to move forward from here.

Peter D.
Joined Jul 30, 2010
0 points
Dec 12, 2012
Peter, thanks for sharing your story. I'm sorry for your loss. I didn't mean to convey that "I have no support" - I just have experienced the disconnect between the reality of cancer and the preconceived notions people have about cancer. I think this is because the cancer is so prevalent and no two cancers or treatments are alike. My treatment has been completely debilitating in a lot of ways - I've been forced to move from my home to a a different city, my folks to juggle their careers to accommodate my need for a caregiver, I can't drive because of the meds I'm on (I lost my license before I relapsed anyway though... : ), I'm sick to a degree where recreating isn't possible, etc... While at the same time I know several people who had relatively easy times with more treatable forms of cancer. I've been fortunate to experience a lot of support, not only from friends (all climbing partners!) and family, but the climbing community as a whole has been really supportive and encouraging as well. Kevin Landolt
From Fort Collins, Wyoming
Joined Jun 1, 2009
580 points
Dec 12, 2012
Keep climbing, you are an inspiration. Noah Doherty
From Nashua, NH
Joined Feb 28, 2012
200 points

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