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A mountain before breakfast

The sign on the restaurant said Open at 11 AM.

We were in St. Anns, Nova Scotia where there is one motel, one restaurant, the Gaelic College where we had spent most of the morning, flocks of seagulls and two bald eagles. When we asked where the nearest place for breakfast was, the curmudgeonly motel owner pointed on the map a decent distance away towards Sydney.

St. Anns Bay, Nova Scotia

“There is a mountain in between”, he said with a half-smile.
Right.  We pull out the remnants of cheese and crackers and split the remaining banana.  And off we go … up and over the mountain for 15km to get breakfast before heading on into Sydney on the last ride of this trip before we fly home.
What a difference a year makes.
A year ago, I had to cancel a bike trip through Asia because two side effects from breast cancer treatment made my hopes of willing my body back to its strength and normalcy a pipe-dream.  
Now I can ride over a mountain before breakfast.  
In hindsight, it was completely unrealistic to think I could have ridden a bike through Asia a year after intensive breast cancer treatment ended.  But I didn’t know that at the time.  I had biked through India a few months before diagnosis and I was eager to pick up my life where I left off.
But I learned there was too much damage from surgery and chemo and radiation, and two side-effects from treatment weeks before the trip began finally forced me to admit I wasn’t ready, and my body was not – and might never be the same.
So I cancelled the Asia trip and spent the next months recovering from the self-inflicted damage from training.  And when the pity-party was over, I sought the help I needed to try again and make this damaged body capable again.  This time moving smarter and slower.  
But slow and steady has been working. And I can finally see the path back to normalcy, this time recognizing the small victories.  Slowly pulling my body back to strength.  Slowly pulling my confidence and spirit back from the cocoon that long sickness brings.  And unlike the all-or-nothing trip to Asia last year,  this time knowing it’s better to make small gains than to suffer huge set backs.  
All survivors fight their way back differently.  All survivors must move forward balancing the person they were with the changes cancer brings to your body, relationships, mindset, work and priorities.  A significant cancer diagnosis takes over and clouds everything – it can factor into countless decisions about your day – especially when dealing with side effects that are a daily reminder of being sick.  For me, I’ve craved being able to eliminate it from my daily thoughts just like we have hopefully eliminated it from my body. Just move forward and do what I want and not think about it.
As we rode off after breakfast on the last ride of this Nova Scotia bike trip, it dawned on me how far I’ve come in a year.  Riding the Cabot Trail has been physically challenging for many days, but this time my body has cooperated.  This time I could manage the lymphedema.  This time I knew when to rest and how to stretch and how to care for this body that can’t take the stress it could before.  I let people help.
And for the first time since I was diagnosed, I headed out to bike over a mountain with easy confidence.  No hesitation.  I didn’t even think about it.   


Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate lives in Seattle, WA. She is a two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate, a communications specialist and writer, a nature lover and fan of beaches, mountains and big trees in the Pacific Northwest.

2 thoughts on “A mountain before breakfast

  1. I couldn't be happier that you're getting back to doing the things you love to do. I'm especially happy you've been able to do all you wanted on this trip immediately following those big high-elevation hikes followed by your cross-continent flight. Huge success!

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