Monday, May 31, 2010

Second Failed Attempt

Memorial Day, 2010

Mt. Williamson/Pleasant View Ridge
8214' elevation
~3 mi roundtrip

~1480' elevation change


It's been a tough time, but I am hanging tough right through them. Good days, I actually can accomplish some things. Bad days, I can't even climb the stairs to my bedroom so I sleep on the sofa. But truly, any day I wake up is a good day!

The new chemos are kind of rough; one causes rash that requires me to stay out of the sun (although I have been acclimating, 10 min a day, so that I can tolerate both the sun and the rash to go hiking). Both chemos cause horrible diarrhea, accompanied by cramping and nausea and feeling very ill (like flu symptoms). Some days, I just stay in bed or on the sofa. Yet I am grateful, so very grateful, to have this ammunition to help me conquer the cancer once and for all.


It was one year, one month, and one week ago that I was trying to survive the weekend till I could find out what was wrong with me --- which turned out to be cardiac tampanade. So my hiking buddy and I still joke about our "failed" attempt to climb Mt. Williamson (see blog report
here.) So of course I figured if I could survive checking out Mt. Williamson with my heart being crushed and cardiac arrest imminent, I could probably survive climbing it with mets to the meninges and spinal nerve.

I sure don't feel well enough to go climbing mountains, but I'm sure if i go climb mountains, I'll start feeling well. After all, the tumors in my internal auditory canal, on my cerebral nerves and affecting my balance centers, are now ablated. Time to see how those balance centers are improving!

So I made plans with my friends to go check out Mt. Williamson on Memorial Day.
By the time Memorial Day arrived, three of us were able to head out and celebrate the re-opening of Highway 2 (at our end): DH; my hiking buddy; and me. Of course, I woke up with out-of-control diarrhea and cramping...just what you want for hiking! I had three Imm*dium in me before 10:30 a.m.

We set out before noon, but of course we just can't resist stopping along the way to take pictures, although we DID try to hold it to the bare minimum (and consoled ourselves by saying we'll come back next weekend to shoot all the wildflowers).



Click on any photograph to see the larger version.


My hiking buddy snaps the lower portion of a waterfall on Highway 2.


Lower waterfall, closeup.

It was wonderful to be driving on the 2 again, seeing all the landmark points like Dawson Saddle and Islip Saddle. Happily, the road is now open all the way to Mt. Wilson, so we should be able to access many of our favorite places this summer (like Buckhorn). Despite the diarrhea, I decided I was going to try hiking the PCT/Williamson trail no matter what, and just would not be hesitant to turn around if necessary. After all, I'm used to persevering through nasty stuff/times.

So we went to the southwest trailhead, where the PCT crosses the road just west of the tunnels (mile marker 62.5). I figured the PCT would feel like a four-lane highway to us, since we often hike "use trails" (deer paths) and cross-country (no paths). I checked the time; 1 p.m. Since most people take 3 hr to do this hike, I figure it will take me between 4 and 6 hr. Still time to complete it before sundown.



Today's trailhead starts on a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail
where it crosses the highway at mile marker 62.5.



Not so bad at the beginning!


Click on the picture to see the trailside tiny purple flowers at my feet.


A different kind of yucca and yucca bloom, not the typical Lord's Candle.
We dubbed this the big throbbing red one. It's a notable landmark.


We hadn't made it any distance to speak of before I noticed that it must've been a really wet season (it was), because the bugs are CRAZY!! I was blowing and waving and twisting and turning, but they would NOT leave me alone. Fortunately, we had our Cutters Outdoor stick with us. I put some on my face and arms and continued on.


Steeper and more rugged now as we round the first main curve.


Coming up on the first major ridge.


The first ridge above the highway. DH is looking southeast into Bear Canyon
(with Highway 2 to Islip Saddle on the left).


Looking southward into Bear Canyon.


By the time we crested the first little ridge that overlooks the highway to the south of us, I had had ENOUGH of the bugs! Since the Cutters was on my face, they resorted to flying in my mouth, nose, and ears. AAARRRRGHH!!!! I can't stand that! I grabbed my bandanna from atop my head and had DH soak it down with the bottled water, then tied it around my face cowboy-style. Finally, I could breathe without the extra protein (bugs) in my diet or inhaling them up my nose!

My hiking buddy turned around and saw what I had done and started cracking up at my ridiculous appearance. I just happened to be using a bandanna she had given me; one of tye-dye colors and peace and love and heart symbols. She immediately dubbed me "The Peace and Love Bandit." Well, at least my oncologist can't say I'm not covered up!!!


The Peace and Love Bandit


The trail grew less pine needles and more rock after the first ridge as we cut our way northeast. In the distance we could hear the falling water -- the headwaters of Littlerock Creek! Soon we could catch a small glimpse of it downslope from us, but no one wanted to ski down on the rocks (and then have to climb back up) to see it. So after 30+ yr of swimming in Littlerock Creek and Dam, I can finally say I have seen the headwaters on Mt. Williamson.


Normal Southern California mountain trail...wear good boots and hiking socks!


Care to slide down and see the headwaters of Littlerock Creek?


I'd finally solved the bugs-in-my-facial-orifices problem and was happy. So of course, that's when the diarrhea cramping starts. Lord have mercy! There is NO PLACE to get off the trail here; the trail is on the side of cliffs. Go away, diarrhea---I just refuse to cooperate with this. I ignore it. You know the drill by now --- just keep going! I settled into plodding trail as it got steeper, narrower, and with more exposure. The snowy spots made it fun, too. Good thing my other brother made me get trekking poles!

Eventually we found ourselves at the junction of the PCT and the use trail leading up to the top of Pleasant View Ridge and Mt. Williamson. We took a break to eat a snack and refuel; the elevation was ~8050', so we were into The Zone.



Snow still covers short stretches of the trail.


Junction of the PCT and the Mt. Williamson trail. This marker shows the PCT heading west.


This marker shows the PCT/Silver Moccasin trail coming from Islip Saddle meeting the Mt. Williamson trail.

SSE view panostitch from PCT/Mt. Williamson trail junction.

Looking down Bear Canyon to the south.
In real life, it feels like we're sitting on the edge of the world!


WSW view from our snack spot just north of the trails' junction.


Now you might have noticed our little hikes always involve some little adventure -- either my hiking buddy falls in a creek or my dog falls off a cliff or the bear can falls off and rolls down the mountain or or or. "It's always something," and today of course is no exception. We're sitting there pleasantly eating our snack when my hiking buddy's pack decides to go tumbling down the mountain.

We watched until it came to a rest in some manzanita bushes way below us. "Isn't that the trail just below the manzanita?" Sure enough. DH was kind enough to slide down to the manzanita and get the pack, and then smart enough to hike the trail back up to where we sat.

Since we were so close to the top, we didn't tarry long; just enough to get a piece of jerky and a couple fruit slices into each of us. Then we set out to climb "the last little bit."

You experienced hikers are laughing, aren't you? 'Cause you know the last little bit is always deceptive and actually goes on and on and on. Which is exactly what this last little bit did. We got to the top of what you see below only to find it still continued up and up to the right. But finally, finally, we were standing atop the final ridge and could see in all four directions.



Just climb this last hump (which continues to the right, unseen in this photograph)
and we'll be atop Pleasant View Ridge and Mt. Williamson!


Of course, that "last little bit" keeps going, and going, and going...


After looking at it from my windows for 21 yrs,
I am finally standing on Pleasant View Ridge/Mt. Williamson!



View to the southwest.


View to the northeast.


And yet, believe it or not, we were still not at the "summit" of either Pleasant View Ridge or Mt. Williamson! There are many "bumps" on both geological features. A path to our right (eastward) took us to the bump called 8214. But the Hundred Peaks Section List counts bump 8244 as the official Mt. Williamson summit.


video
The view from the top (but not the official HPS summit). Elevation 8214'.


We started out on the use trail along the ridge to bump 8244', but all our feets were hurting and exhausted and this was really tough climbing here. Are we sure we want to go on? We checked the time -- it was almost 4 pm. We have no choice but to turn back, as that is our cut-off time for starting down. We walked back to where the trail deposited us on the ridge and had a little break to admire the view, take pictures, and drink our celebratory summit beverage.


Dust devils kicking up on the east end of El Mirage Dry Lakebed.


Sex on the Beach on a mountaintop!


The wind was really whipping on top the ridge, and the hour was late, so we did not dally long. It was probably 4:15 when we started down.


Okay, time to head back down!


Go slow!


Don't fall!


Another snow patch to cross.


Just a little exposure, eh?


Finally the highway comes into view!


Once again I just settled into plodding trail, and I don't think we took any breaks of any note on the way down. I do remember resting for a moment to listen to the headwaters of Littlerock Creek, but the bugs were obnoxious again and I couldn't stand long. Before too long we could see the red throbbing one, and we knew Big Blue lay just beyond it. We decided to immediately jump into Big Blue and drive straight to the bathrooms at Islip Saddle; we could deal with our gear etc there. I remembered to check the time as we piled in the van; it was 5:45. Roughly 1.5 hr to come back down the mountain.


There's little white flowers tucked into the red stalk, just waiting to pop!




Big Blue awaits!

And I must say, as an experienced outdoorsman, the bathrooms at Islip Saddle were simply the WORST-smelling I have ever been in. Ewww! Doesn't anyone pump them? Don't people from the L. A. area know to CLOSE THE LID in an outhouse? I decided I'd survived holding it long enough, I'd just go on holding it till I got home.


One year, one month, and one week ago I was out on this trail with cardiac tampanade,
cardiac arrest imminent. I must have some really good angels on my side!


We all limped back into the van and peeled off our hiking boots. It felt so GOOD! And then we popped open our celebratory beverage to commemorate our successful hike.

As we were driving home, we were treated to the coolest experience. A doe ran right in front of us and then leaped the guardrail and went down the cliffs in the most extraordinary exhibition of grace. Wow!

But you know what the very best part was? Climbing into the hot tub when I got home! AAAHHHHHH!!!



A successful summit-and-return celebratory beverage in the parking lot at Islip Saddle.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cyberknife

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!

It's been an interesting and even scary time lately. Fighting metastasis in my head, I feel like I've been riding rollercoasters nonstop for a couple of months. I walk like a drunken sailor, due to the balance centers being affected; and the cerebral nerves have been impaired, causing me to lose my hearing and my facial muscles on the left side.

I was also starting to feel overwhelmed once again by the cancer, especially by the diagnosis of leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. I begged the doctors to give me more ammo to fight with NOW, as I didn't want to wait on trying the reservoir with chemotherapy in the brain. So I started on a new targeted chemotherapy drug on May 1 that has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. So far, we believe the drug is working, as indicated by the side effects I've had.


I also opted to use a process called "Cyberknife" to rid myself of two tumors in my head, one in the Internal Auditory Canal (on the cerebral nerves) and one in the soft tissue between the IAC and the brain. My doctors had heard of Gamma Knife, but the specialists to whom they sent me were the ones who told us about Cyberknife.

Unlike Gamma Knife, Cyberknife can do other areas besides the head, including the spine, lungs, and prostate. That's really good news, because I have a tumor on the spinal nerve at L2 that is causing the numbness in my legs and feet (and formerly was causing the sciatica pain; boy, the acupuncturist did a GREAT job of knocking that pain down to nothing!).

Cyerknife isn't really surgery; as a matter of fact, it SPARES one having brain surgery (or other invasive surgeries)! Instead of cutting into me to remove the tumors, very high doses of radiation are targeted specifically into the tumor(s), ablating the cancerous cells and tissues. I just lie on a table, while a machine reminiscent of Wall-E moves around me, delivering unseen and unfelt beams to the tumors' locations.


It's so Star Trek --- just lie on the table while the macine moves all around, blasting
tumors with beams of high-dose radiation and eliminating the need for brain microsurgery!



Furthermore, Gamma Knife requires a metal framework to be screwed into the head, while Cyberknife was completely noninvasive. That was very appealing to me. To hold my head still, they molded a mesh mask to my face that was clamped to the table for each of the actual Cyberknife sessions. The two tumors in my head were ablated over the course of three 1-hr sessions.


A mesh mask molded to my face is used to keep my head still during sessions.


The ablated tumors will be dissolved over the next 2 to 4 weeks, and I am hopeful I will have complete restoration (although it isn't predicted). Meanwhile, I am groggy from the Benedryl I take (knockout drops) to combat the rash caused by the targeted chemotherapy. I sleep a bit more than I like, and I greatly miss driving.

So I just enjoy the simple things in my life each day: the beautiful yellow birds that wake me up each morning (and tease the cat); all the wildflowers constantly emerging as others fade; my family.



I might have to take up bird watching as my newest hobby!


Of course, incorrigible that I am, I did sneak out one day to drive (with parental supervision). I took my mom on a little picnic to see the last of the wildflower fields. So even though life is kinda hard right now, we're still taking time to enjoy all its beauty.



Fading field of coreopsis.
Align Center

And of course, I am NOT giving up! Thank God for more ammunition! I'm still going!