Have you ever been a total basket-case? I mean full out, off your rocker, emotional wreck kinda stuff? The type where no one knows what to expect from you or if you’re even safe to be around?
Well, I think I got to have that experience. I shall explain.
First of all, the trail can be a bit demanding from time to time. It makes for some interesting emotional responses. I’ve been in circles of hikers where, even the tough could admit, you’ll be walking along, enjoying the hike, when suddenly you just start balling like a small child. The tears will come unannounced and at a nice steady flow. You may even sob. It could be because you saw something beautiful and felt grateful, or you thought of something sad, or felt so tired you couldn’t stand it, or got lost (my personal best hissy-fit), or it could be for no reason at all. This, of course, is just part of the fun. Comes with the territory, if you will.
We took it up a notch this week. With the news that my big sister, Brea, has cancer. With that news came a whole new level of insanities. Like, for example, my attachment to the woods. Eric and I came to a big, flowing stream and sat down to get water. As I reached down to fill my water bottle, I thought how much I’m going to miss getting water this way. How lame it is to get it out of the sink. How I love the sound of the rushing creek. How I know there are some really tough realities waiting for me back home and I wish I could just stay here. I heard the song, “Stay with Me” sung by Bernadette Peters from the musical “Into the Woods” and imagined the river was singing it to me. “Stay with me the world is dark and wild, stay a child while you can be a child,” and I thought, “Ok, I’ll stay, just don’t let the big scary world get me!” As soon as Eric and I walked off, I stayed behind him and cried.
Then my emotions got flip-floppy. I could be extremely positive. When the sun came out and the views were epic, I would think, “Take it all in. You’re so lucky to be able to have this.” When the rain got heavy I would still stay on top of things and think, “Yeah, this sucks, but you know what would suck much more……cancer!” Or, sometimes the obstacles would crush me, depending on my most recent head space. Like when I came to a log too big to climb over. Eric found his way around after a bit of difficulty, and I just sat there, all teary-eyed on the other side and said, “You go on, just leave me here.” He looked back puzzled, and I realized how unreasonable this all must have seemed. But in my head was a screaming little girl, saying, “I can’t get over this log and my sister has cancer!” I’m certain, that if it weren’t for him being there, I would have just sat down and cried for who knows how long.
Things got a little bit more publicly ugly in the town of Stehekin. There’s one phone in town, and I was anxiously awaiting news of her official diagnosis and treatment with no access to the outside world for a week. Eric wrecked both knees pushing himself to get us there a day early too. Stakes were high. That one phone turned out to be pretty well demolished by a mud slide just a couple days before. I called my father, and asked how Brea was. He said, “She starts chemo tomorrow.” And I said, “My God! How bad is it?” and he replied, “Shayla……I can’t hear you. Shayla?” We basically left it at that.
So I ran to Chief’s sisters, who I had just met that morning and knew had information on how to get to this town from the outside world (Later on, I came to wonder how much of running to them was just about seeking maternal energy). I asked them a bunch of questions about transportation out of there and tried to remain calm. Then they asked, “Is your boyfriend too hurt to go on” which was a legitimate question by how much pain he was in, but I responded with, “No, it’s for me. My sister has cancer” and then came the water-works. Full throttle, in the middle of a restaurant, these two women I had just met put there arms around me and gave me some serious stranger-to-stranger comfort. One of them even cried a little herself. I told them I knew almost nothing, except that it’s called Ewing’s Sarcoma, and that she’s starting chemo tomorrow. In my head, there was no question of finishing the trail, I had to get home. The whole restaurant kept looking over at me, but pretending not to mind that there was a hysterical young woman ruining their breakfast. But, you gotta do what you gotta do.
I settled down a bit, and asked the woman behind the store counter if I could use a phone for a family emergency. She asked no questions, dialed the number for me, and I got to have a reasonable conversation with my dad. He said sternly, “No, finish the trail Shayla. That was a terrible phone call just now and I didn’t get a chance to tell you that it’s going to be ok. She’s in good hands, she’s going to be going through this chemo for the better part of a year, and you should finish up and then come home.” Then he told me to hold on, while he got my sister to call me herself to confirm it. The super nice lady behind the counter didn’t mind me receiving a call there at all. My brother in law called within a few minutes. He gave me a full update of the good news and bad. The great thing to hear was that her cancer hadn’t spread at all. It was all in a tumor, under her collar bone. She has 12 weeks of chemo now, then a surgery to remove it, than another 22 weeks of chemo to go through. That seemed like a hell of a lot. He also said that he and Brea had talked about this and that they insist I finish the trail. My mom said the same.
So I spent a couple of cleansing, healing (emotional for me, physical for Eric) days in one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen. I had the classic experience that I hadn’t before, of eating myself sick. I was up often feeling queezy and awful for most of the second night. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, till I mentioned it to Chief the next morning and he just nodded like he understood, “Ate too much, huh?” I had an immediate, “Ah-hah!” moment, and laughed at myself. Then we moved on, heavy-hearted but extra grateful. With 88 miles to go.