the other side of the mountain

When I was diagnosed last June, a mountain stood before me.

Or that’s what I thought. What I didn’t realize is that, I was looking at the first mountain in a range. Just getting through the diagnostic process was a foothill. Then there was the chemo mountain. And then the surgery and…you get the point.

 To everyone else, it looks like I’m on the other side of something.  Like, I’ve made some real progress. But, for me, I just keep looking ahead and seeing another mountain. 


 Right now, I’m in between the surgery and radiation mountain. A lot of heavy and sad things have happened in this “valley.” A lot of loss, suffering, unknowns, and sadness are all around me, in my community of friends. Tonight, my daughter asked, “When are we gonna be done with cancer?” And in my head, I’m thinking, “I hope cancer doesn’t swallow me whole and finish me off.” Instead, I answered, “I’m hoping by my birthday in March.”

My brain is always on spin cycle with about five different thoughts. I’m constantly wondering if there will be any lift? Will life ever go back to light-hearted living? Or is that done now? Sure, we have many reasons to smile and we still crack jokes, but life is thick with sorrows all around us. 

Will I die before I’m ready? The more I get through unpleasant treatments, the more I feel like I’ve earned years. I have to remind myself of all the precious and good that comes from a struggle with breast cancer. So much grace and beauty has happened these last seven months. I don’t want to let myself forget. A year battling breast cancer–whether you live or die–can be the best year of your life. Can be…

In any case, these questions are not the mountain I need to climb today or this week. Always, I want to get ahead, but always, I need to stay in the moment. 

So, turning my attention to practical matters, this week I have my radiation simulation. I don’t know exactly what this entails, but I think I get a few tattoos (no joke). The plan is to get me and the radiation machine all ready to do some radiation starting next week. Hopefully, I’ll have the words to explain what happened. I write to let you in on what you hopefully never have to face. And I write for comrades on the same path. Whoever is reading, I find these things to be such curious adventures. Even if I never was much for climbing mountains.

8 thoughts on “the other side of the mountain

  1. I love this analogy. So fitting.

    I rarely think about my own mortality. I think about yours more now (obviously), but I don’t often make the jump to being you, putting myself into your skin, and thinking about your mortality and all the unanswered questions and unknowns that still lie over the next rise.

    If we could add to the graphic, the sorrow would be a dense fog settled into the valley. I don’t know if it will lift. I hope the sun will shine hot and strong into that space and clear it, but I just don’t know.


  2. Jenna,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while. Steve Palmer is my cousin, which is how I found you. My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and beyond that Liz endorsed your blog, so of course I had to read it. Thank you for writing.

    When I saw this post, I immediately thought of Paul Farmer’s story in the book “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” This is a saying in Haiti that expresses much of what you are saying in your blog– but according to the book they use it all the time! The book itself is fabulous, if not an easy read.

    I can not even begin to imagine how tired you are, or all of your family is, of cancer. You are in my thoughts, and I so appreciate what you share.


  3. I love this analogy. It really works.

    Perhaps the sorrow of life right now could be added to the graphic as a dense fog, making the way even more unclear as you approach the next rise.

    I want to promise that the sun will burn hot and blast it away quickly, and soon. But you know I can’t.

    You’ve opened your heart and inclined it to take in the sufferings of those around you. That is not wrong. It’s heavy, and it makes the way harder at times, but it is not wrong.

    I’m proud of you.

    And I’ll bring extra energy gels for the next pass.


    1. We just read in our Bible study this morning how suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope etc etc. It’s a lovely passage from the sightseer’s standpoint. But it isn’t until there is real suffering to face, real mountains to climb, that any of us can understand the extent to which this is a process involving God-given amounts of courage and patience and humor and love. And even then, it’s no piece of cake (though I suspect it is all the more beautiful up close). I am so blessed by your honesty, and so thankful that you are surrounded by people who love you. You are in our prayers.


  4. Thank you for baring yourself to all of us…I feel like I’m walking this path, that no one chose, with you by reading your words. I don’t have any magic words to say or wise sayings. Just, I know struggle and I could really relate to the valley and mountains. I also relate to the thinking 5 thoughts at one time. You are a giver of yourself. Not just a part of yourself but all of you. It’s why people are drawn to your inner light! It’s a gift but it has a downside that you also feel everything very deeply. Everyone’s experience or emotions blend with yours. That’s why it’s so important to refuel with hope, joy, and love by taking that in from loved ones. It will balance out the other stuff you also experience.
    I continue to pray for healing for you. I’m sick of cancer and I’m not even going through it. I know you have more to do and I hope that it will be the last!
    I love you. Climbing is hard but you’ve already conquered a few mountains. You can do it.


  5. Dear Jenna,
    This may not help all the time, but I do hope it helps some of the time when you need that boost of heart energy to get through a moment of low: I climbed a literal rock and earth mountain with you this summer, and I am reminding you in this moment-by-moment-crappy-moment, that you were the one who came back to find me. You were the one of our lovely mountain climbing pair who kicked arse and still had the energy and perspective to help me see the forest through the trees. It was the first time I had been with you since your diagnosis, and we hiked your cancer together by the hands right out of those woods. (Thank you for coming back to meet me, just in case I forgot to tell you then.)

    Let yourself feel every part of this “mountainous hike” now, too – the shitty parts and the grande beauties. But on the days when you cannot seem to find the forest through the trees, remember Lake Jenny and the path where you came back to find me. Just breathe in that clean mountain air, and let it fill your lungs. Let everything else fall away for a minute or two or twenty.

    …We didn’t have to reach the top to find the beauty.

    Lovingly and warmly,


  6. A hug is coming to you. Your feelings are so pure and true. Thank you for talking about them. You are a cancer ninja.


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