I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009. Trekking to Everest Base Camp was on my bucket list for many, many years. When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s it came off the list for obvious reasons. My short-term memory was shot and I couldn’t walk a straight line. In fact, I used either a cane or a walker to get around. It was an incredibly scary and difficult time; I felt like I was 53 going on 80.
My symptoms slowly improved with medication and physical therapy. Just when I thought that maybe I would have a good year without worry, in October 2011, for the second time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a bad one. The cells were very aggressive and nasty. I was about to launch into a six month treatment plan that scared me beyond belief. My younger kids were 19, 17, and 17. I couldn’t believe I was putting my family on yet another traumatic and terribly frightening course. This time there was a small chance I would die.
My oldest friends, with whom I share so much of my past, are those I grew up with in Ohio. I’ve known a lot of them since elementary school. When I told my friends about the cancer, one of the guys told me that another classmate, Greg, was about to start chemo for lung cancer. Greg and I got in touch and sort of re-united, since we hadn’t seen each other in over 35 years. We decided to be “chemo buddies.” We talked almost every day. We shared home remedies, talked about medication side effects, that sort of thing. I believe I told Greg about my bucket list, but I don’t quite remember (Parkinson’s brain!!)
I got better, but Greg did not. He died in August of 2012. I was at his house after he died and I met his brother Tom. I knew Greg had a brother, but that’s all I knew. Things got crazy in the house so Tom and I stepped outside for a bit. We chatted for a while, and Tom learned that I was there because I was Greg’s “chemo buddy.” Other than that, Tom knew nothing about me.
As we were talking about health stuff I mentioned to Tom that I have Parkinson’s. Tom told me he receives health care at Scripps in La Jolla. Tom then told me about a doctor, Melissa Houser, and some wonderful Parkinson’s research she’s doing at the Center For Regenerative Medicine at Scripps. He told me that she goes to dinner, the theater, and other such places with her patients. Then he told me that the group went to Kilimanjaro last year, and that all of the Parkinson’s patients on the team had summited. We continued to talk about Dr. Houser and Tom told me that she’s taking her patients to Everest Base Camp next year.
You could have heard a pin drop. I told Tom about my bucket list and we just sat there – couldn’t say a word -- then we both started to cry. We knew with such certainty that Greg had given me a gift. There is no way that this all came together by chance. I’m not a religious person in that sense of the word, but I’m spiritual. I know there’s something beyond this, and that Greg is still the kind, thoughtful, and generous man I knew.
Greg’s gift continues. The series of events that have occurred since August continue to astound me. In early September I wrote Dr. Houser and her team and asked if I could go with them next year, and in early September they said they would be “honored” to have me. I spread the word via social media and an "all hands" e-mail. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection and support.
I’ve known one of my Ohio friends, Rick Whipple, for over 50 years. He was my first real boyfriend in 6th grade -- he gave me a ring! We would hang out all the time, as kids do. When I told Rick about Everest he asked if he could go, and I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. Everest Base Camp has been on his bucket list since he was in college. We contacted the Scripps people and he’s going.
There are so many other wonderful things that have happened since this journey began. I've re-connected with so many old friends new people have come into my life, all of whom have added to the wonder of Greg works in small ways but he’s still at it. I’m taking his picture with me to Everest so he can see it up close and personal.