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Maybe Chemo isn’t the Best Time for Backpacking?

Not how I wanted to end the trip!

July 2021.

My son Declan and I set out to backpack thirty miles through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite. When I got the wilderness permit six months ago I didn’t know I’d be going through chemo and still wanted to make a go of it. I’d been hiking and cycling and swimming in chemo, so I figured I could make this happen through sheer force of will.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

We hiked about 24 miles, over 4,200 ft of elevation change in 85+ degree heat before my body gave out on me. On the third day I fainted twice on the trail. Declan was clearly scared but kept his wits about him and pushed back on me when I insisted that I could keep going. (Six miles and 2k+ feet back up the canyon to go – WTF was I thinking?!) Declan rang the SOS button on our Garmin satellite device and took charge. He communicated our situation clearly to the Yosemite rescue dispatch team as they mounted a response over the next few hours.

Ultimately, we got flown out of the canyon by helicopter by a great crew who feted Declan and didn’t make me feel like a totally crazy person for having tried to make the trip in the first place.

I’ve never been a person who took “No!” for an answer. It’s more like a challenge. Cancer and its treatment have been humbling. I am at once pissed off at what I’ve had to sacrifice physically and emotionally in the fight while also thankful for the fact that the treatments, while harsh, exist for me to suffer through and live.

Declan has promised to return next summer to the same spot from which we were rescued, to complete our trek. Stay tuned….

Eileen McPeake

Author Eileen McPeake

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