Emily Schottman

The Finish Line
Tuesday, September 04
Our final day for MM4MM Iceland started with a uniting Happy Birthday song to our “warden” (cabin keeper?) who bunked with all 18 of us in a tiny little cabin. He lives in Reykjavik and was turning 60 that day. It struck me; his is such an odd job: to eat and sleep most of his week between two glaciers at the summit of volcanic rock and begin each day with a new group of wide-eyed and energized hikers. He smiled and received our gift of song.

As I began trudging slowly down the first hill to a plateau of icy slush, I tried to feel the realness of the end of our journey. I can be very quiet in groups, since being diagnosed with myeloma, so many of my conversations are in my head.

I told myself how grateful I was for the over 100 donations from colleagues, family, strangers, new and old friends. I thought of my Dad who died of a similar blood cancer 22 years ago, how he would have loved seeing the geological wonders of our trip. He was hiking with me, too.

After a couple of ups and downs between black and white landscape, dark volcanic rock alternating with snow underfoot and vertical white horizon of glacier and fog, we came upon dry rock bed. I remember crossing a metal bridge over ebbing water that was a hint of 22 waterfalls to come that day.

Back on flat land, my right knee suddenly gave out and I tumbled to the ground with my 22 lb. pack atop of me. Our team nurse, Dana met me with a hand up and steady gaze that reminded me of a nurse while I was giving birth; her eyes said, “You can do this.” Ben, our trek leader, took my pack, educated us that most injuries happen in the last leg (pun intended?) of a hike when our excitement dampens our awareness of where our feet are falling.

I tied a shoelace around my right knee to remember this mantra and tip to trek another two-and-a-half hours to Skogafoss, a breathtaking waterfall that would serve as our finish line. When I finally saw my husband and kids at the bottom of 370 stairs, I pushed to meet them and receive the best hug of my life.  My trek was complete.

Weeks later, I am so glad that I was selected for MM4MM Iceland, could hike in honor of my dear friend, Mary who died two months earlier, and can honestly say that I am on the other side of initial fear and worry that is so common during the myeloma experience. The uphill days of the trek gave me a goal that I can get through any challenge and, despite hiccups on the downhill, it is all worth it to receive the gifts of love and connection.
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