Out There: Climbing Mountains When It Matters — Today

Susan's Lacke's friend Carlos climbed Pico de Orizaba, the highest mountain in Mexico. Photo: Susan Lacke | Competitor.com

Susan Lacke writes about her friend’s battle with cancer — and his desire to live life in the present.

“I haven’t seen you in a month!” I cried as I hugged my best friend tightly. “I missed you. What’s new? What are you up to?”

“Same old, same old.” Carlos sighed. “Teaching. Radiation treatments. Climbing mountains. The usual.”

I nodded thoughtfully. “Climbing mountains” is the code name we’ve used for his fight with cancer. It’s a tip of the hat to our history of riding bikes up mountains to train for Ironman triathlons. What used to feel like the hardest thing ever — grinding gears up 8,000 feet of climbing — is a cakewalk compared to what he does these days: a never-ending loop of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

“What about you?” Carlos took a sip from his coffee cup. “What have I missed?”

“No mountains for me. Just hill repeats, and they suck.”

“You should come up to Flagstaff with me one weekend and do some training runs there. I’ve been going there every weekend.”

“That sounds like fun!” I smiled. “What are you going to Flagstaff for?”

“I told you, Susan. I’m climbing mountains.”

And I’m bitching about hill repeats.

It’s been three years since Carlos went to the emergency room with nausea and vomiting; Three years since the doctor discovered a tumor in his colon that had spread to his liver and lungs; Three years since the doctor told him his prognosis was grim; Three years since he promised his family and friends that he would fight cancer with every ounce of his being.

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During those three years, cancer has tried to break him. It has sapped his energy, demanded his time, and refused to get the hell out of his body, no matter how many times the doctors open his chest with scalpels and pump him full of noxious drugs.

Yet somehow, in a strange way, cancer has also given him life.

For as long as I’ve known Carlos, he’s talked about hiking Pico de Orizaba, the highest mountain in his native Mexico (and the third-highest mountain in North America). It always came up in the context of “someday” — as in, “someday, when I retire from teaching,” or “someday, when I’m done with triathlon.”

But when you’re told you’re going to die, “someday” no longer exists in your vocabulary. There’s only today. And today, Carlos finally climbed Pico de Orizaba.

Never mind the fact that he just finished radiation a few weeks ago — a treatment that burned his lungs so much he developed a constant cough. Forget about the fatigue that left him droopy-eyed toward the end of our coffee dates. Ignore the headache that set in while he trained on the mountains of Flagstaff. And don’t even bring up the fact that he’s got yet another round of chemotherapy coming up in a week. That’s next week. This is today.

And I’m bitching about hill repeats.

If you call Carlos “inspirational,” he’ll shake his head and wave it off before turning the conversation focus back to you. He’s not very good at tooting his own horn. But I happen to be an expert horn-tooter, and will toot with obnoxious, reckless abandon to anyone who will listen, because the world could use a little more inspiration.

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Too many good things get pushed to “someday” while our “right now” is filled up with useless things — hitting the refresh button on Facebook, hanging out with people you don’t really like, making excuses, and, yes, bitching about hill repeats.

But what if “someday” no longer existed in your vocabulary? What would you do then? Perhaps you should adjust your timeline.

After all, your mountain’s ready for you today.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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