Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Giving Back - $1 Per Mile

Early this morning I slipped out to the Gorge and hiked up Multnomah Creek. The sun shone down on the rapids and honeyed the moss draped over tree limbs and boulders. As I climbed higher, a mossy talus full of fir opened up to the sky and the snowy shoulders of Silver Star mountain graced the hills across the river. I smelled the scent of pine sap and damp earth , and welcomed the touch of wind and warm rain. My plan was to cross from the Multnomah drainage over Wahkeena Creek to Angel’s Rest, for a 9 mile loop with a few thousand feet of elevation gain. I love this hike – it’s one I’ve done many times, in all seasons. I’ve seen carpets of spring wildflowers, tapestries of autumn leaves, barren winter stands of fire-scarred trees. There are many hikes on my list yet to check off; today, I chose an old favorite.

But there was a time, just a year ago, when I couldn’t go hiking.

Last April, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had surgery. Since then, I’ve been undergoing regular blood checks, CT scans, and x-rays. In fact, I have another appointment in three weeks. I don’t know if this means I have cancer or not. I think not – and I don’t let it stop me.

I stay active by hiking. It’s physically challenging, mentally clarifying, and spiritually lifting. I’m fortunate that I can hike about once a week. Many are not so lucky.

Try walking into the Cancer Center. It is a messed up feeling. It isn’t right. There’s no good reason for being there. It could be you or someone you love, but whatever reason brings you through those doors, you always, always, always wish you didn’t need to be there. Every three months I walk past the receptionist to the elevator and hit the button for the sixth floor. When I get out, I walk down an empty hallway and enter a waiting room filled with huddled, silent people who don’t make eye contact and who read months-old magazines while waiting for their name to be called. Even though the secretaries remember me, they still verify my insurance. And after my doctor has seen me, while I wait for the scheduling nurse to tell me when to come back, I try to ignore the hairless men and women reclining in chairs with chemicals flowing through their veins.

Many people have to walk through those doors far more often than I, and many of them will never get to go hiking and experience the beauty of Oregon’s outdoors. That’s why at the end of 2010, I will donate $1 for every mile I hike during the year to Providence Cancer Center in Portland.

Providence treats more cancer patients than anyone else in Oregon. They have excellent doctors and treatment centers, renowned researchers and diagnostic facilities, and superb outpatient counseling and care. If worst comes to worst, you want to go to Providence.

Last year, I hiked 163 miles after having surgery. I’m up to 43 miles this year, with a goal of 250. If I don’t make it, I’ll donate $250 as a minimum. If you hike with me, I'll donate a dollar for each mile you hike, too. It may not be much – my riches are measured in friends, family, and experiences, not in dollars – but every dollar matters. Because walking through those doors is something that no one should ever have to face.

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