Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kathmandu

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I'm gonna try to make this quick...

After 38 hours, a quick stop in Shanghai, a switch of airports there that resulted in a fair bit of heartburn, less sleep than I expected, and no visit to the actual city, a couple of bumpy flights, and countless interactions with perfect strangers (my favorite!) - I arrived about two days ago.

I'm not sure why I expected this place to be calm. Maybe is the zen-ness that you get from the pictures of expansive and massive mountains and buddhist monks that implies a peaceful tone? Not sure, but Kathmandu? This place is CRAZY. The people I'm traveling with (all expats who now live in Singapore) have bee comparing it to India. So far - they say it's pretty close to the same, but with fewer rogue cows on the streets. Fair enough.

I'm not going to lie - I was a little bit shocked on the drive from the airport to the hotel. There are people and cars and dirt everywhere. Also true - about 24 hours into being here, I remembered what it was I loved about developing countries and crazy, disgusting cities. Oh man... I am BURSTING!

Untrue to form, I actually did a little tour with our group (four of us) yesterday - and loved it. Typically, I loathe tours. But this was different. Just the four of us and Bihm, the sweetest guide you could imagine. We went to the monkey temple (which has a proper Nepali name but I'm too lazy to find it)  and Paktapuhr - the old city of cobblestone streets. 

Today should be slightly less exciting - we'll be taking care of some practical tasks as a team (Christina, who came to support her husband Vic in the race has given in to peer pressure and will be joining us in the race - so we need to procure here some gear). Chloe and Cissy arrive from Singapore today and we'll meet them at Women LEAD - one of the organizations we're sponsoring on this trip - this afternoon (a post about this org to follow). 

Here are some piccies from my travels and my first few days in Kathmandu. 


En route to Shanghai - traditional "shake off the chaos of getting to the airport, getting an actual boarding pass, and getting through security in time" gin and tonic in hand. 

View from the top of our hotel - yesterday morning's sunrise breakfast. (Awake at 4:30. I'm not complaining and I'm not trying to change this sleep pattern because its actually kind of working for me.) 

Christina, Jenn, me, and Vic - the four members of our team that have arrived in Kathmandu. We gain two more today. 

Monkey Temple

Prayer rolls at monkey temple. 

Big giant Buddha

Timol, the city center. 

View from monkey temple - overlooking Kathmandu. 

Some beautiful kids checking out the ancient queen's bath at Pakthapur. - the little ones also happened to be deaf. Their quiet was magnified by this city of noise - little gems of peace in this place. 

There are some seriously amazing doors in this place. 

At some temple in Pakthapur. 

A random old man. I didn't take this picture, Vic took it with my phone as he was taking a picture of me. After Vic handed the phone back to me the man insisted I pay him for taking the photo. So, so common. And annoying - although maybe we shouldn't have taken the picture? I'm always trying to figure what is right in these situations. Do I give the man money for taking the picture and perpetuate the dependency? (He walked up to Vic expecting to have his photo taken.) Or do I walk away and not pay him for his "service?" I did get a pretty amazing photo out of it. 

Clay pots. The man in the background made them all. 

The market in Pakthapur

Doors, doors, doors... amazing. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Annapurna (and a bit of an update...)

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The fact that it’s mid-Feb and I am just now trying to write about events/thoughts of the last 5 months should tell you that 1) I am totally discombobulated, and 2) … I’m super happy.

Life

Chloe hit me up sometime in the fall on a whim, “Do you want to go to Nepal and do an ultra-marathon with me???”

Without a single second of thought, “Yes!!!”

I’m an idiot.

I did a half-marathon (a half marathon – less than ½ of a 50k) in November and suffered in a whole new way. I’m learning a lot about the different ways there are to suffer. This time, it was my hip. Like, serious hip pain. Suddenly it’s as though I’ve aged 50 years in 5 months. I am stiff and heavy and… old.

With a (newly) thick uterus and cysts growing on my ovaries and a (very, very minor) concern that there could be a new cancer growing in my reproductive organs as well as about five seconds of worrying about whether or not the breast cancer had spread to my hip – I decided that training for an ultra-marathon in the Himalayas was not in the cards.

Chloe decided otherwise. “We can walk the whole thing if we need to. Life is too short not to spend it with amazing people.” She was totally right.

It will take me 38 hours to get to Kathmandu. I leave on Saturday.

The same week Chloe convinced me to join her in Annapurna; an MRI confirmed that I’ve got tendonitis in my hip (NOT cancer) and a biopsy showed no cancer in my uterus.  While there are still a few tests to be done to make all of this conclusive – I took these results as a sign that I made the right decision.

So I’ve been training like a mad woman, “cramming” for a 50k race at sea level that will actually take place at 10,000 feet. Right, turns out, those mountains in Nepal – they’re pretty high.

“Bursting,” doesn’t describe the way I feel about all of this. Whether I succeed or fail in this little venture, I am so proud of the way my body has responded to training. My legs are thick (carrying water weight, still) and my hip is sore and my shins are tender (stress fractures?) – but weekend after weekend I have been able to go out and RUN for hours and hours and hours.

I remember going through chemo and thinking over and over that all I wanted was to feel my heart beat fast and the blood rush through my legs. Now, occasionally I even have moments where I feel like a runner again; like the old Steph that could bust out 10 miles after work without blinking an eye. It’s so empowering to know that that no matter what I look like – I am capable of running 30 miles. In turn, my attitude about this sweet body of mine has changed. Strong again. Different form, but strong…

I've also been asked to lead a climb up Machu Picchu in may. Seriously??? Whose life is this?!?!?

And the journey of acceptance continues. And of course, gratitude, for the ability to run and for the great adventure that lies ahead, abounds. This is LIFE!!!

Love and Loss

A year and a half ago I wrote about traveling to Colorado to cheer on some friends in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. I really hesitated to take the trip at all because I was in the middle of treatments and was struggling big time. Ultimately I decided to go because I was in the middle of treatments and was struggling big time. I needed mountains and light. Gianna plopped herself into my life there; a breast cancer “thriver” (her words) and a race participant. She turned out to be my light. She was roof that I could recover and eventually race again. She also showed me her mastectomy scars and blew to shreds any concerns I had about surgery. I listened to her intently and did everything she said. I wanted to be her.

Gianna called me two months after I met her in Colorado to tell me that her cancer had returned in her lymph nodes and in her lungs. Stage 4. Stage 4 breast cancer is “treatable but not curable.” Devastating.

I have talked about Gianna in the couple of speaking events I have done – I magnify her “thriving” spirit. The fact that even though she has been diagnosed with a cancer that modern medicine deems incurable, she absolutely believes she will be cured. Even today, as the cancer has spread to 20 different spots on her brain and her spinal chord and it appears she is at the end of this battle, when I ask her what I can do for her – her answer is concise: Pray for the impossible. I am not a big prayer, and I don’t usually believe in the impossible, but I’ve been forced to realize that I don’t get to glean from her thriving spirit and then denounce the beliefs that make her who she is.

And so, I support her indefinitely, Gianna – my light.  There is no doubt that as I’m running in Annapurna I will carry her with me.    

And the lessons continue.

Fear

It’s funny to me how normal I’ve become when it comes to practical concerns. I’m just now realizing how fearless I was when I traveled Africa. But now I find myself worrying about flying now (um, in Nepal – which is scary!) and wondering what it will feel like to wander Kathmandu alone. Two years ago I would not have thought twice about it. In some ways I think this is exactly what I need – the reminder that Nepalese are just people too, and that death is always a possibility. But I do snicker at the thought of beating the big C and all of the concern and talk that goes into keeping it from coming back and all of that hoopla could be a non-issue. I could die crossing the street tomorrow or trying to fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara. I go through these circles in my head and then I remember what I’ve said since my first round of chemo – and it rings even more true today…

I do not want to die of cancer. It’s not that I don’t want cancer to be my cause of death, it’s that I do not want to actually go through the process of dying of cancer. I have seen it. It’s horrific. I am terrified of it. So if I die on an airplane trying to run an ultramarathon in Nepal, awesome. (I’m going to keep telling myself until I return to US soil in March.)

Comforts

I have moved at least six times in the last 3 years – and that doesn’t include the time I spent in Africa where I was always moving. So when Ashley and I moved into this place in June, I was super stoked to know that I would have a home for a whole entire year. But wouldn’t you know it that a whopping 4 months into our tenure here, Ashley’s boss asked her to move to Austin, Texas. So… Ashley and her dog and two cats left me and Tate two weeks ago. I was afraid that I would have to move, or worse – be forced to get a roommate (Ashley wasn’t a roommate – she was an eternal advocate, and probably the best friend I could have asked for at the time), but the stars have aligned and I am able to stay in this two bedroom for the duration of my lease. Gratitude abounds for the stability and the ability to stay.

But…

It’s been a while since I’ve been healthy and working and lived alone… and it feels weird. Not actually that comfortable for the first few days. But Tate and I are getting used to the solitude and learning to enjoy it.

And of course – the same week that Ashley moved out, I received a job offer for a full time, permanent role (WITH BENEFITS) with the company I’d been contracting with since June. This also happened to coincide with week the fact that my oncologists office called to tell me that my (beloved) oncologist wouldn’t be able to treat me anymore – unless my benefits changed.

Serendipity? I’ve never felt so lucky.

Stars aligning, once again for me - I don't understand it but I'm trying so hard to focus and give thanks and be true to the light inside me. 
I plan on writing about Nepal while I’m in Nepal. The intention is to actually keep note of the experiences that I’m having while I’m having them. But of course – the writing won’t come at the expense of actually having the experiences (so I may not actually write in Nepal – and I’m good with that).
Wish me luck as I head out on this one… I am confident that this race will be the most challenging yet. Piccies to come, of course.