Meeting the Mountain: Moving in support of Movember, in support of friends
This year, as I prepared for Movember, a close mate shared some bad news. The cancer that had been fought and declared beaten had returned.
I lost my father and mother to lung cancer. I lost my step-mum to bowel cancer. I’ve lost many mates – throat cancer, spine cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer – some old, many way too young.
A few years ago I finally got organised and signed up to Movember, the global Foundation that supports men’s health issues. Movember started in Australia in 2003 and raises awareness and funds to support research into prostate and testicular cancer. In 2015, the Foundation expanded to urge men to move, to get active and stay healthy. This year, they’ve expanded further to support men’s mental health. More than 75% of all suicides are men, some 510,000 per year. Their slogan this year is “Stop men dying too young”. Hear-hear to that.
At the start of 2015, one of my closest mates succumbed to throat cancer. Mick was very special to me and his loss is still present. When Movember came around I thought, “I have to do more this year, I have to go beyond growing a mo”. I wanted to do something big, to honour him.
I live on a road that snakes up the Jura mountain range to La Dôle, a beautiful peak at 1,677m with stunning views across Lake Leman to the Alps and Mont Blanc. There are Chamois up there and many hiking trails. La Dôle stands high in the landscape, crowned by a big white air-traffic-control radar dome and at 40 minutes from Geneva, is hugely popular with walkers of all ages.
I worked out that if I walked from the Lake to the top of La Dôle five times, that would be the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. That seemed a fitting tribute to Mick so off I went. Every Sunday I walked. The first three times I was bathed in stunning sunshine and friends joined me. Having reached the top, when I got back to the road, someone retrieved me and brought me back down again. It was hard at first, unaccustomed muscles grimaced in pain for days after the first walk but it got easier and easier.
Just before the fourth walk, it bucketed snow and I had the challenge of getting up there and all the way back down again because when it snows the gate over the road gets closed, so no one could come to get me. But I did it and then did it again, for good measure, the week after when the weather was putrid with snow, rain and ice-laden winds. All in all, I walked more than 150km and climbed my own Mount Everest. It felt really good, a fitting tribute to Mick. On top of that, I raised about CHF8,000 which was terrific.
Then 2016 arrived.
Movember’s move into the mental illness space had me thinking I had to do even more. I don’t know why but there it is. I decided that this year, instead of getting someone to pick me up at the top, I would walk all the way up and then all the way back down again. That’s a total distance of over 45km, a marathon+ and up 1,440m each week for five weeks, Mount Everest enjoyed a second time.
Tuesday November 1st saw me getting my gear ready for the first walk when the ‘ping’ came through from my mate - bad news from the docs, my mate in a bad space. Still too little information then to form a strong picture, but clear enough to know this was a worry. I pledged to walk the next day and each Wednesday for my mate, “every step a prayer to keep you safe”.
I’ve done two walks now and embark on the third tomorrow. Friends and colleagues have joined me to support the cause. My mate comes with me too, carried to the top and back, singing in my heart, praying that everything will be OK. I never walk alone.
This year the snow came early and last week was the toughest physical activity I’ve ever done. But my mate and other people with cancer and mental illness don’t get to choose when they suffer so I don’t get to choose sunshine when I walk. The trick is to keep the sunshine inside.
More info is coming through for my mate now and I will take more steps over the next three Wednesdays to keep my mate safe, to pray for good health, to keep spirits high. Everything is crossed for a good outcome. In the meantime, let’s bless everyone who is suffering from cancer or mental illness and bless those who carry them in their hearts.