Matt Goldman
Matt Goldman

7 Ways Climbing a Mountain Is Like Battling Cancer
Monday, January 30
I’ve been thinking a lot about how climbing a mountain is like battling cancer. Each stands alone as a challenge. If I had my preference, I’d only be climbing a mountain. But like five of my fellow Kilimanjaro climbers, we’re doing both. To add to this, I recently became refractory to my maintenance treatment that I’d been doing for over two years. This means that just before Kilimanjaro, I’ve had to switch to a heavier chemo regimen. I’d be lying if I said the change didn’t make me question both my cancer recovery and making the climb. But I’m focused on both and confident that I’ll succeed.
1) Teamwork – This is a no-brainer. You can’t climb a mountain or battle cancer alone. It takes a team of people you trust and who understand your needs and goals. With cancer, I have my wife, family, friends, doctors and nurses, fellow patients, and even my dog. As I train for Kilimanjaro, I have friends who I hike and train with, who know that I have good days and bad days, but they get it and keep me going and adjust to my pace. For climbing a mountain, I have the same team motivating me to train that I have helping me fight cancer. And you can add to this my fellow climbers, all who have been touched by myeloma in some way. We have our guides and team leaders who have the experience to ensure we make it to the peak just like my doctors who are myeloma experts and know what it takes to keep me healthy.
2) Staying calm – I knew that eventually I’d have to switch my treatment. This is something most myeloma patients face. It’s usually a question of when, not if. But all you can do is pick a treatment path and go for it. Be satisfied that you’ve made a good decision. I see Kilimanjaro the same way. It’s something I have to do, it’s not even a question of should I do it. All I can do at this point is modify my training and keep in mind the goal. For both fighting cancer and climbing a mountain, I have to stay calm and simply do my best. I can worry but I can’t get too worried. I try to believe in my choices.
3) Focus – My cancer diagnosis has taught me to focus and compartmentalize in a way I couldn’t do pre-diagnosis. When it’s time for chemo or time to recover from treatment, that’s my focus. When I’m on a hike or working out, that’s my focus. For hiking, it’s one step at a time. I don’t think about the entire mountain, that can be too overwhelming. I just worry about getting one foot in front of the other – makes things less onerous. The same goes with fighting cancer. I basically operate on a weekly or monthly basis. I can’t think about six months from now or a year. This would drive me nuts. Nobody knows how I will be feeling next year. So, I focus on the task at hand. Get through each day and I then have another day to improve.
4) Visualize – When I’m getting treatment, I try to visualize the drugs attacking the myeloma straight on, killing the cancer cells. I try my best to keep the negative thoughts away. When the Kilimanjaro team met in Colorado in July, there were a couple of moments I wasn’t sure I could make it to the peak. But I’d close my eyes and visualize going just another 10 feet – baby steps. It kept me moving and got me to the top. Visualize small achievable goals and build off of them.
5) Disappointment – I’ll never be in the shape that I once was. Not only do I have myeloma, but I’m also getting older. While training for Kilimanjaro, there are moments when I get pretty frustrated. I get out of breath, my legs get crampy, my body hurts. It can be pretty disheartening. Same with cancer, especially of late. I’ve been very anemic and super tired. There are moments that I think how much this sucks. But I think it’s okay to feel this way. You have to embrace the emotions. It makes the successes that much sweeter. I’m not going to fly up any mountains. I need naps and can’t stay awake past 8 p.m. any more. I don’t like it, but I roll with these changes, and eventually, I put my big boy pants on and suck it up. When I start a new treatment regimen, I literally put my big boy pants on. I’m a shorts person and not a fan of long pants. But when dealing with something serious, I’ll put on long pants just to play a mental game with myself. “Fight like a grown up,” I tell myself. And climb a mountain like a grown up. Slow and steady. The disappointment eventually gets tucked away.
6)  Be positive – Cancer. Kilimanjaro. I’m confident that I can conquer both. I have to think this way. I know myself better than anyone else, and I know my limits. I’m confident in my abilities. When I was first notified that I was accepted onto the Kilimanjaro team, my first response was, “oh geez, what have I signed up for.” When I was diagnosed with myeloma in 2011, my first response was, “you have to be kidding me,” and, “what’d I do to deserve this.” It’s quite an emotional roller coaster. But with climbing a mountain and fighting cancer, you have to have confidence and be positive. Without these, both things are much more difficult.
7) Enjoy the ride – This is a tough one. But no matter the outcome of my battle with myeloma or climbing a mountain, this has been a heck of a journey. I’ve met incredible people who I never would have known before. Little things bring me pleasure like never before. I’m more proud of myself than I ever was before both these journeys began. Right after my diagnosis, a cancer coach at my local hospital told me that some day, I’d view cancer as a gift. I laughed at that thought. But it’s true. I’m a better person, I appreciate life more and I’m more enthused by minor and major accomplishments. I’m still here and I’m about to climb a mountain with amazing people. What more can I ask for? It’s a heck of a ride. I better enjoy it – I have no choice.
So here we are. Climbing a mountain. Battling cancer. Two distinct challenges. But they go together and each helps me deal with the other more positively. One step at a time.
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