8-31-2013 – What a beautiful day! Hiking to and from Blue Lake (5-6 miles) in the beautiful autumn sunshine, we were determined to make the most of our final days of summer. We took a break on the way down the mountain to spread out and pick huckleberries. Because we had sampled them on our way up, we knew which meadow had the largest and sweetest. We brought enough home for a pie and plenty of snacking…
We were back to the car with plenty of time to explore a cave that Mark had found weeks earlier with the young men from church. It was actually a lava tube that had collapsed in on itself, thus we had access. As we began to climb down into the hole I saw that it was going to involve large boulders and a lot of darkness. Jackie decided right away that this was not for her and asked to go back to the truck. The family tried to talk her into staying… now for four of them this was a great adventure; but for me, it was terrifying. Since I was the only one who understood her feelings, I encouraged her to return to the truck.
I was definitely the slowest of the group, but eventually we all made it down into the hole. I was hoping for a nice, smooth trail once we were inside (like the Ape Cave), but it was boulders all the way. This was a good sized cave and I was glad to climb up and out the other side. It was here that I learned that climbing out had only brought us to another opening of the real cave. Bravely, I stuck with the family and began climbing down through another set of rocks which seemed bigger and rougher all the time. As we progressed there were some areas of smooth ground; yet I could not relax because the opening and the light it provided was getting farther and farther away. As we began to climb yet another large pile of boulders, we also began to round a corner and the small dot of light began to completely disappear. By this time I couldn’t breathe and was sure the walls were closing in. I didn’t want to be by myself, I didn’t want to spoil the everyone’s fun, I didn’t want to whine, but I DID want to breathe. This didn’t happen when I was younger, but claustrophobia is popping up more and more often.
No one seemed to mind having Mom head back out, I think they were glad to be able to rush ahead at their own pace. Mom, however, thought that heading back out through the darkness was one of the worst ideas ever. With just one flashlight and no one to talk to, the journey was something I would not want to repeat. I stepped carefully to avoid twisting my ankle and survived mentally by the power of positive thinking. I can do hard things! I had used this as a summer theme for the young women at church a few years back (iCan).
What a moment of relief to get to the sunshine again. What a moment of horror to remember that there was still another cave to traverse. I had totally forgotten. There was no other way out. I considered waiting for the family, but why should Jackie and I both be alone? I was afraid, but I didn’t want to be; so I took a breath and began my descent. As physically challenging as it had been before, this time was worse because I was alone and I was afraid. I felt like my fear was even deeper because I had been through here before and I knew it would be bad the whole way. And then, I began to give a little speech to myself.
It was really one of the best speeches I have ever given. What a shame that there was no one else to hear it. I began to compare traversing the cave with my experience as a cancer mom. It has been 2.5 years since Greg had completed his chemotherapy. Seven months of living in the hospital (about half-time)- trying to balance home life and keep things as normal and positive for the rest of the family as we could. Watching Greg grow weaker physically, but stronger mentally. It had been very difficult, but we had managed and come out on top. We were stronger in almost every way and we all look back on it with positive memories. Greg says it was the best thing that ever happened to him… but we would not want to do it again.
At this time we were in the process of testing the other kids for Li Fraumeni Syndrome. I am not sure if their results were back yet, but we certainly knew that cancer was a possibility for our future. I would have to face it and I didn’t want to. I also didn’t want to climb down into that second cave, but I did. What else could I do?
So am the reluctant spelunker and I find myself comparing this dreadful cave to my dreadful cancer experience; I am composing a remarkable and inspirational talk about dealing with cancer; and suddenly I am enjoying the whole experience. It wasn’t easier. It was still dark and the way was rough. I didn’t have my sweet husband to hold the light as I climbed up the rocks, so I had to learn to climb one handed. There were no children eagerly climbing in front of me to show me the way. Once I hoisted myself onto a rock but there wasn’t a logical next step, so I had to be illogical and a little more brave than I wanted to be. I ended up with a scrape on my leg, but a great feeling of accomplishment. Once again in the sunshine, I felt great. I had successfully completed my little journey, and I remembered that oft-learned lesson; that I could do other hard things as they came to me.
I was happy to get back to Jackie in the truck where she had a few fears of her own. We were parked in the middle of the forest, and there were hunters wandering about so she was pretty pleased to see me come through the trees. Thus my little trial had given me the opportunity to assist my daughter in hers.
Why do we always try to find the easy way? Hard does not have to mean bad. Conquering a trial feels fantastic at the time, gives us experience to help others, and it adds to our courage for whatever lies ahead.