Words from Cynthia, the hippest lady I know…
“All Hands on Deck
When I first met Kim, almost nine years ago, it was at the rock gym which her then boyfriend, now husband, Spencer managed. She greeted me with a genuine smile, the kind of smile that doesn’t just stop at the corners of one’s lips but travels up the face like a wave that crests in the eyes. In Kim’s case, which I would learn through the years, Kim’s pale cerulean eyes seldom hid her true feelings. When we met, and this may now be my memory playing tricks on me, but I swear, her eyes were aglow.
My first impression was wow, this girl Kim is really sweet, exuberantly so! At the time, I was still new to Portland, by way of Switzerland and LA, neither of which is known for being extremely friendly: the Swiss tend to be rather reserved and in many circles of LA, the car you drove, what you did, easily superseded who you were. So when I met Kim I chalked it up to yet another fine example of Pacific Northwest friendliness.
What I know now is, while Kim is open and welcoming, she’s actually pretty selective about who she climbs with. And it isn’t about skills. I haven’t asked her specifically, but I imagine if I were to, we would talk about the intangibles: what are the things that draws someone to another person? But the conversation would eventually end up on the subject of trust, because while there are multiple allegories one could draw between life and climbing, it always boils down to one thing: can you trust the person on the other end of the rope? Will they be there to catch you or on the ground to spot you? And hey, if you can, dammit “BOB!”(1) have fun while doing it?
Through the years, we’ve had fun! We’ve gone on multiple climbing adventures, met for twice weekly gym sessions, and our friendship grew from that. We saw our little crew strengthen, expand in numbers, and at times, we even saw it splinter off. Turns out, life can get in the way of climbing: relationships, injuries, work… yet somehow we always seemed to find our way back to each other. Then in the Summer of 2011, after what we thought were a series of bad colds, turned out to be the worst diagnosis fathomable, Kim had lung cancer.
And for the first time, our group rallied behind something that wasn’t around climbing. Over the past two and half years, we’ve shared in Kim’s journey. And if you’ve been following her blog, you can read about how her friends have experienced it(2).
When I first found out, I needed to know what it meant. What is lung cancer and what does it mean for my friend? Logically I thought, there must be way we can fix this. After all, knowledge and awareness is power right? But statistics were grim, and as I read more, it became grimmer. Of all the cancers for Kim to have, lung cancer was pretty much the shittiest one. Why? Well because it’s such a efficient killer. More Americans die from lung cancer than all the other top three cancers combined: breast, prostate and colon. While you have a 90% survival rate with breast cancer or a 99.9% rate with prostate, you’re closer to 16% with lung cancer(3). And that’s only when you catch it early enough. Unfortunately, no early detection methods, underfunding and the stigma that it’s a smoker’s disease, all play a huge impediment to raising much-needed money for new research(4). Research that means new drugs, drugs that are key to prolonging lives, my friend’s life.
While I rationally know what terminal means, emotionally, I still have a hard time comprehending it, or rather, accepting it. I hold out hope that we’re just one drug discovery away from a cure. And that it’ll be in time.
When Kim and I talk about the future, her eyes are crystal clear, but they flicker side-to-side, vacillating between uncertainty and certainty, when we talk about sensitive things, especially Spencer. There are times when our conversations trail off awkwardly… it’s uncomfortable because often times we don’t have the answers. Other times, we skirt around the topic, because the answer is inevitable. Kim always says, “we all have to go, and it can be at any time.” She just happens to know her time more than we do.
For now, I know Kim has purpose, she’s championing for lung cancer awareness, she has Spencer, her friends and a strong support network. She’s got a lot of fight in her! But I also know she has her share of low days and personal disappointments. As a friend, I can only stand with her. Share in her ups and downs. And hope that when she needs me, I’m there for a power spot. And that may be the singular biggest perk to having a bunch of friends who are climbers. We’re there to keep an eye on her, give her soft landing, and when she needs it, catch her. “Bob!”
1 On an all-girls climbing trip to Red Rocks, we would yell out “Bob!” on the especially tough parts of a climb in honor of a burly climber we all knew by that same name.