Off the Wall

Cel­e­brat­ing Every Day on the Rock

Gripped - - CONTENTS - By Eleonore Le­beuf-tay­lor

Can­cer and Climb­ing

This isn’t your typ­i­cal climber pro­file col­umn. No on­sight­ing 5.14s or new routes in the Cana­dian Rock­ies. Rather, this is a story that cel­e­brates small suc­cesses and what drew us all to climb­ing in the first place – the joy of over­com­ing phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges and the drive that gets us there.

There are two big Cs in my life: climb­ing and can­cer. I started climb­ing in the spring of 2015 and was hooked. I soon bought gear and a pass to my lo­cal gym. How­ever, a few months later and shortly af­ter my 23rd birth­day, my life was turned up­side down when I was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer. Four months af­ter mov­ing to a new city for grad­u­ate school, I had to move back in with my par­ents in Cal­gary, with an un­cer­tain fu­ture. My life, and my climb­ing dreams, went on hold while I started a year of ag­gres­sive treat­ment that in­volved surgery, chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion.

I went from be­ing an ac­tive climber and run­ner to not be­ing able to com­plete a set of 10 sit-ups. For sev­eral months, while I was deal­ing with the phys­i­cal ex­haus­tion from get­ting chemo­ther­apy drugs pumped into me sev­eral times a month, I also had to come to grips with see­ing my friends get on with their lives and grow into strong climbers while I was just fight­ing to some­times get out of bed.

I felt like I was grind­ing my gears and I was frus­trated by my weak­ness, but the mo­ti­va­tion to re­gain my strength kept build­ing. When I reached a less ag­gres­sive treat­ment phase, I started go­ing back to the gym. Al­though I was only climb­ing easy routes on toprope, I felt like my bat­tle with can­cer was giv­ing me wings. I felt that while fight­ing the dis­ease – and win­ning – mak­ing it to the top of a route seemed like an achiev­able goal. The ben­e­fits of climb­ing were psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal, the climb­ing gym helped me deal with the sense of iso­la­tion that many young adult can­cer pa­tients live with. Ev­ery­one in the chemo ward was at least three or four decades older than me, so hang­ing out at the

climb­ing gym with peo­ple from my own gen­er­a­tion helped me re­gain a sense of nor­malcy. To top it all off, giv­ing those 5.8s and 5.9s my all helped me deal with the side ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy, in­creas­ing my en­ergy and re­duc­ing nau­sea and pain.

Climb­ing was help­ing me to stay healthy and keep in touch with who I was out­side of my can­cer. Push­ing my­self to fin­ish a prob­lem, in spite of ev­ery­thing that was hap­pen­ing to me, made me feel like a su­per­hu­man. I even had a weight ad­van­tage over my heav­ier, hairier part­ners by be­ing a bald su­per­hu­man with only one-and-ahalf breasts. By the end of my treat­ment, I was show­ing up to my ra­di­a­tion ther­apy ap­point­ments in the morn­ing with my back­pack full of climb­ing gear, ready for an af­ter­noon at the crag. Who cares if I could only climb 5.7. As I worked on a route, I could re­con­nect with my body. It started a feed­back loop: the more I climbed, the bet­ter I felt and the more I wanted to climb. The friends I made on my jour­ney to re­gain my strength were spe­cial. I was both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble, and hav­ing the undy­ing sup­port of my climb­ing part­ners meant the world to me.

I fin­ished treat­ment two years ago, but the re­al­ity of be­ing a can­cer sur­vivor is al­ways with me. Some­times, it can be hard to stay op­ti­mistic, but get­ting on the wall is one of the best ways to deal with the anx­i­ety be­cause it gives me some­thing to fo­cus on. And, al­though mindfulness is the trendy thing these days, I can never con­cen­trate long enough to med­i­tate, but climb­ing does it for me. When faced with a hard climb, I have this mo­ti­va­tion: I’ve crushed can­cer. I had to use my strength again last year af­ter I took a bad fall on a chossy Bow Val­ley mul­ti­p­itch. It left me with an air­lift ex­pe­ri­ence, a dam­aged an­kle and a small con­cus­sion. I went back to the gym a few weeks later wear­ing one climb­ing shoe and one brace. Peo­ple started rec­og­niz­ing me as the one-legged climber. My foot­work im­proved, even though I de­vel­oped some cre­ative knee-use beta.

What most peo­ple didn’t know, in­clud­ing my be­lay part­ners, was that the in­juries were not even close to the un­luck­i­est thing to hap­pen to me. Sur­viv­ing can­cer doesn’t come up in most gym con­ver­sa­tions, so most of my part­ners have no idea un­til I tell them. The dis­ease and ev­ery­thing I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced and still face every day, fades into the back­ground of climb­ing, even af­ter I’ve dis­closed it. As climbers, we en­gage in a po­ten­tially high-con­se­quence ac­tiv­ity, which means that we’re more fa­mil­iar than most with the fragility of life. For me, though, the threat comes from in­side my body. I don’t know whether or when can­cer will come back. When I’m climb­ing, I re­gain a sense of con­trol over my body and my life that’s miss­ing from my daily ex­pe­ri­ence as a can­cer sur­vivor.

Be­ing a can­cer sur­vivor is like on­sight­ing a nev­erend­ing mul­ti­p­itch: I have no idea what’s com­ing up next, but I know the only way up is to push my­self and to trust my part­ners to hold me there. A lot of peo­ple, both within and out­side my climb­ing cir­cle, have told me that I’m strong, re­silient and in­spir­ing. For me, there’s sim­ply no other way. There was a time when I didn’t know whether I’d have the chance to climb again, so, no mat­ter how mi­nor some of the vic­to­ries may seem, I’ll cel­e­brate every sin­gle one. I’ll keep push­ing my­self to climb bet­ter and stronger and, above all, cel­e­brate be­ing able to climb some rocks.

Above: Eleonore Le­beuf­tay­lor climb­ing in Keene Val­ley in the Adiron­dacks Be­low: Eleonore Le­beuf-tay­lor at Grassi Lakes, Alta.

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