…And I don’t mean C U Next Tuesday.
I had the extraordinary experience of traveling solo in the PNW. I extended a work trip into a #workcation and rented an Airbnb in Washougal, WA. Why Washougal? It’s the perfect distance between Portland and the Bridge of the Gods. It’s a beautiful, quaint town on the Gorge and Misty’s house had a hot tub – so BOOM.
I knew this trip was going to be refreshing and I was really looking forward to being alone with my thoughts while hiking in the woods. Now, I’m no Cheryl Strayed – you will never find me backpacking the PCT – but I do love to be outside.
The day my coworkers left I received the news that my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At this stage in his diagnosis, all we knew was that it was definitely cancer. No stages, no treatment plans, nothing. No one prepares you for this. Everyone associates a diagnosis with an immediate plan. This is not true for all cancers, and especially prostate cancer. So with this news, I spent some time wandering the streets of the Alberta Arts District in Portland (pause here – The Grilled Cheese Grill – you guys are my jam, and I will be back!) and then headed East. It was Oktoberfest, and Amnesia Brewing happens to be located in Washougal. I needed distractions.
I gorged myself on some incredible pizza at the Hearth, talking to the owner/chef about his blown glass artwork and his new restaurant. He was so kind, and incredibly fun to watch. I moved onward and made friends with some recently divorced women at Amnesia – one of them had left her husband after she found out he was cheating, and the other had left her husband after years of emotional and physical abuse. They were amazing women. We talked about their new lives, their hopes for their single adventures and they had a lot of questions about me and my travels. It was comforting talking to strangers, especially ones filled with so much hope for the future.
If you have never traveled alone, people are INCREDIBLY kind to you when you do. You make new friends every place you go, and discover hidden gems you never would have known about!
I went back to the house after a few beers, fired up the hot tub and soaked until I was a raisin. In the morning I found a great breakfast spot called OurBar, and I got to talking with a couple who had lived in Minneapolis about a decade ago. They asked me where I was planning to hike, and instructed me to find Beacon Rock. I would have never known to stop at this former volcano, which provided my favorite views on the trip, had it not been for the kindness of these strangers.
On my way to Beacon Rock, I turned a curve and saw Cape Horn for the first time. I pulled to the side of the road, and just took it all in. I eventually grabbed my camera and started snapping. Once I was back on the road, the tears came. This wasn’t the first round of tears (and definitely not the last). It hit me like a ton of bricks that my father was about to face an important battle. It was going to be hard for my mother too, who has been with him for the past 45 years. They were planning for her retirement (dad retired a few years ago), so what was this going to mean for them and their hopes for the future?
I made it to Beacon Rock, and climbed the 850ft (with about 50 switchbacks) and the view from the top left me breathless. Though, it could have been the hike… I made it back down, hopped in the car with new enthusiasm and continued on to The Bridge of the Gods. I had fun singing in the car, walking across the bridge, talking to other travelers who paid their toll to walk across, too – and just enjoyed the sunny day. I forgot about everything for a little while, and I just soaked in the experience. On my drive to Multnomah Falls, I felt selfish for the feelings of excitement I was having. But I also hoped that my parents would not let this illness ruin their excitement for their retired futures together, filled with travel and grandkids. My love for adventure comes from them after all. No one prepares you for the emotional rollercoaster when they talk about cancer. Honestly, all we ever see in pop culture and in our personal lives is overwhelming sadness when it comes to the c-word. No one talk about the confusion, guilt, hope or awkwardness. Yes, you feel guilty. Guilty for having fun, guilty for feeling emotional about such an early prognosis (seriously – I felt that stage 1 wasn’t bad enough to feel openly sad). And yep, it can be awkward – like getting drunk and telling your friends in the bathroom at a birthday party (see also: dance floor, drag show, brunch…) kind of awkward. Your mom talking about your dad’s prostate medicine to your friends kind of awkward (they didn’t even know about the cancer yet…). Having to talk about prostates at all kind of awkward… So anyway, I hiked to the top of Multnomah, made it back down (legs made of Jell-O at this point) and then I called my mom for the first time. We spoke while I drove to Mt. Hood for my last stop of the day. My mother was honest, but strangely optimistic – I wouldn’t normally give her that adjective! I lost cell service on the mountain, but I made it to the top where I ate some delicious fondue and watched a sandstorm take over the mountain from a cozy table in the lodge.
It’s been seven months since my dad called me with the news. And we still wait. Every few months he goes in for testing, this time could be the one where they decide to move forward with treatment or surgery. Or it could be the time they tell us his numbers are getting better. None of us know. Tom Petty said it best, the waiting is the hardest part. I’m happy to say my parents are looking forward to moving south for the winters, so much so that they’re house hunting this fall. Initially, they had held off on planning too far into the future – so it’s encouraging to hear them discuss where they are going to go on vacation, where they want to move, etc. No one talks about this part of the disease either – how to keep planning, keep moving forward and stay hopeful in the face of this ugly disease.
So I’m starting to talk about it – not just the medical part. I think well all need to stop whispering about cancer, stop being so damn awkward. It’s likely going to have an impact on your life, so let’s try to help each other through the mental/emotional/psychological parts of this illness. And not just the worst cases – the normal, everyday, stage 1 cases. The waiting. The fear. The hope. All of it.
For more information on prostate cancer click here. My dad did not have (and still does not) have a single symptom. His annual physical resulted in one test coming back with a strange result, and his doctor re-tested him to make sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. Six months and three tests later, the cancer was found.
For more pictures from my trip click here.