On March 5th, I was diagnosed with cancer, and it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
I see cancer as the ultimate motivator—not a disease. A week after being diagnosed, I came across the survival rate of people who have the kind of cancer that I have.
Fifteen years after being diagnosed with Adenoid cystic carcinoma, 60 percent of people die from it. Not an encouraging statistic, but I believe I’ll be in the 40 percent who live longer than 15 years, and I believe I’ll die of old age.
If for some reason that’s not the case, the next 15 years of my life will be the best years of my life. It’s a win-win, because now that I am fully embracing each day, no matter how much time I have left on this planet, I’ll be living it with the perspective that each day is a gift. Having cancer already has taught me an important lesson and is helping me to embrace a concept that, until now, I mostly intellectualized.
The week I was diagnosed, I decided to hike up Mount Si, something I hadn’t done for years. In fact, I hadn’t hiked a mountain for two years. For someone that loves being in the mountains as much as I do, it was pure insanity to go that long without a hike.
Thankfully those days are over, because while hiking up Mount Si, I got the idea to hike up as many mountains around the world as possible. The following week, while on my morning walk, I was thinking about taking my next hike when it hit me: It’s a beautiful day, so why not go on a hike now? I hurried back inside and googled great hikes in the area and Mailbox Peak came up. Perfect, I thought. A friend of mine had just mentioned it to me last week. I grabbed my things and off I went.
I arrived at the base of the mountain about 45 minutes later. This would be the first time I had hiked up Mailbox, and I had heard it was somewhat difficult, so I was looking forward to the challenge.
Normally when I hike, I hike alone. It gives me a chance to enjoy the sounds of nature and the peace I experience in solitude. But this day would be different. As I was studying which route to take, four women walked up. I asked them if they were familiar with the route I was looking for and they were. As we walked up the trail, Deedee said to feel free to join them. I thought that was a nice gesture, but I was going to walk with them for a few minutes and then say goodbye, so I could continue as planned with my solo hike. But I had a good feeling that we would get along, so I changed my mind and decided to go with the flow and joined them. And I was glad I did.
Our conversations were stimulating, and Julia, who I’ve become friends with since, turned out to be passionate about nutrition. The conversations I had with Julia reinforced my decision to do a Gerson Therapy based treatment. The Gerson Therapy is a natural cancer treatment protocol that consists of a vegan diet, daily coffee enemas, and drinking 13 fresh vegetable juices per day. During the hike, our conversation topics ranged from hiking, rock climbing, health, and how I saw cancer as a motivator rather than a disease.
Whenever I hiked alone, it was almost certain that at some point during the excursion I would decide to run to get my blood really pumping. However, it didn’t take long for me to be glad I chose to walk in a group that morning.
The general grade of the mountain was slanted at an angle that required one to be in pretty good shape to keep a moderate pace. On Mailbox Peak, there are two trails to take, the old trail and new trail. Evidently there’d been too many cases of hikers being hurt on the old trail, so an easier trail was created for those who preferred a more moderate hike. I was glad we were on the old trail because I prefer activities that are more intense. And since it was a trek in the Northwest, the face of the mountain was filled with extraordinary green and thick vegetation.
There were points in the hike that if you didn’t pay attention to where you are going, you could easily get off the path. It wasn’t something we worried about, but it could be dangerous to get lost on a mountain; it is always a good idea to stay on the trail unless you’re someone who thrives on making your own path. Winding up the mountain, there were bends on the trail that provided amazing views of the mountains around us. Although this was only my second hike in two years, I was in pretty good shape and would’ve struggled up the mountain had I not been living an active lifestyle.
In between our inspiring conversations about life, I was in awe of how beautiful the nature around us was and how amazing the weather was. Here I was, a man who loved being in nature about as much as anything, yet I hadn’t made time to hike up mountains nearly enough. I was grateful that I now had a new mission to hike up as many peaks around the world as possible.
As we neared the top, there was a bed of rocks that led up to the peak. At that point, we could either take the easier, softer path around the rocks, or spider our way up the cascade of stones. Because I loved bouldering, I was all for us taking the rock path, so I was glad that Julia and Deedee were also inspired to take that path.
As we got closer to the top, fog rolled in to the point where I was worried we might not have much of a view from the top. Up until then, the weather had been gorgeous, but growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I knew that things could change in a heartbeat in this area. In fact, there was a saying in the Seattle area, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Knowing this to be a joke that sometimes had truth to it, I was hoping the fog was just a small sheet passing by.
Thankfully, the clouds did dissipate, and after we climbed up the rocks, we were close to the top, and I could see the peak. The last stretch to the Mailbox at the top was pretty steep, but although I was expecting to be pretty tired by that point, I was not. A big reason for that was because we kept a moderate pace during our trek up the mountain. That was something I didn’t do when I was alone, because I usually took off running at some point during my hikes. It was a welcome change of pace.
When we finally reached the top about four hours after we began, the view was beautiful. At the highest point of the mountain stood an actual mailbox containing items hikers had left as gifts for the mountain. All I could think was how the hike did not disappoint, and that being on top of a mountain looking out into the vast beauty of Mother Nature was as good as it gets.
There were a handful of other hikers on the peak with us—a couple from Germany and two women, Samantha and Michelle, with their dog, Buddy. After a friendly conversation with Sam and Michelle, our group grew as we headed down the mountain. The message of the mountain on this day was abundantly clear. All it took to create community was the willingness to take the risk of opening my mouth and saying hello. At worst, the person or people we are saying hello to will not respond, but at best, new friendships and communities are formed. When we get out of our normal routines, new possibilities arise.
Since going on the hike that Monday afternoon, I’ve stayed in touch with all but one of the women I met, and Julia and I went on another hike together and have become friends. I fully expect to go hiking again with them the next time I’m in Seattle. Deciding to get out of my normal hiking routine that day provided a dynamic and amazing hike, and it also created community. All by simply saying hello and being open to what followed. So, the next time you think about saying hello to a stranger, why not take that chance?
Author: Scott Binder
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May