Thursday, May 30, 2013

Costa Rica with Colostomy

Two weeks in Costa Rica was a warm and easy vacation. 
Much different than the harsh adventure travels in Nepal.

Costa Rica has an amazing variety of terrain ...

   from rugged volcanic hills            to the powerful ocean         to where jungle meets ocean

We hiked and swam at some remote and special places. Including the aptly named Suppository Falls
Suppository Falls                                                                                           

 The lush jungle supports amazing foliage and flowers

We enjoyed the warm peaceful sunsets


Peeling an ostomy-flange seemed almost certain... but it never happened

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Versatile Blogger Award

It is nice to be recognized by peers.  Only peers know the effort and mindshare it takes to blog with cause, content, pictures, and a piece-of-yourself.  Fellow-blogger Heidi Skiba nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award. I am humbled and  honored that she thought of me.  During my recovery from cancer & colostomy surgery was my first exposure to social media and blogging.  Heidi’s Outdoor Ostomy was one of the first, and remains my favourite and most-read site.  Heidi has a permanent ileostomy, yet is amazingly active with climbing, hiking, and other outdoor adventures.  Check out her informative and inspiring site at

Most of the blogs I follow are written by Ostomates with positive life-affirming determination, who share their adventures & challenges & zest for life.  These people inspire me.  Here are 15 of my favourites.
… And a few mostly-unknown facts about me

[1] I was the first player in my hometown to wear a hockey helmet.
Fifty years ago, nobody wore a hockey helmet.  But I took a severe concussion while  playing hockey (with bleeding from both ears and both nostrils, and 5 days in a hospital).  My dad bought me a helmet, and gave me a clear choice - wear the helmet or don't play hockey.    In 1962 hockey helmets were just leather and felt.

[2] Rode a palomino quarterhorse for a few years.  Bareback and without a bridle all winter.  

[3] Worked as a hard-rock driller and explosives-expert in an underground nickel mine.  
A mile (1.6kms) underground .  For 5 summers,  while a university student. 

[4] Grew up in the late '60s and early '70s.  
Listened to Bob Dylan, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Eagles...

[5] I have been hard on my body.
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body
but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, and shouting
"Holy Shit ... What a Ride"

A quick count of injuries (mostly from 57 years of hockey)  ... 
3 concussions requiring hospitalization, 12 broken bones, 3 shoulder separations, over 100 stitches, 2 missing teeth, and 1 torn knee.  Oh yes, and 1 permanent colostomy with resection.
And a colostomy hasn't changed my lifestyle.
All 5 pictures are with Colostomy

[6] Social media is inconsistent with my core personality.  
I am more comfortable trekking or canoeing in remote places, and without cellphone or internet access

[7] I have 2 grandchildren and 1 on the way

To accept a Versatile Blogger Award after a Nomination...
  • Display the award certificate on your website.
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented you with the award.
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mountains to Climb

We each have our own 'mountains to climb'
These 'mountains' are the challenging personal barriers that we must break through, to live a better life. They are difficult because we must overcome our own fears or limitations, adapt to uncomfortable circumstances, and find an inner-strength we didn't know we had. 
Certainly an ostomy (and all that lead to the decision to have an ostomy) is a formidable challenge shared by many of us. After-ostomy, many will strive to return to a new-normal which may include goals like ... driving a car, living a normal family life, returning to play a favourite sport, playing with granchildren, travelling, or helping others with similar challenges.
My 'mountains to climb' were actual mountains.
Prior to surgery, I promised myself that 

'Anything I could do before-ostomy, I will be able to do after-ostomy'

After a few years of living my bucket-list, rather than just dreaming my bucket list, I upped my target to
'I can do more with my ostomy, than I did before my ostomy'
Climbing 3 mountains in Nepal was the target I set for myself. I dreamed, planned, commited to physical conditioning, then embarked on a 36 day adventure. I trekked with people half my age, hurt like everyone else on our team, but stretched my persistence, adaptability, and grit beyond any prior experiences. This adventure is shared in 54 stories at Hogus&Paul in Nepal

I carried Hogus (an ostomate puppet) for this entire adventure to:
  • bring awareness to the false stigma of ostomies 
  • to show both child and adult ostomates that they are not alone 
  • and that we can live ordinary lives - even extraordinary lives
At each summit, Hogus and I proudly showed our ostomy gear, then quickly zipped up to protect sensitive body parts from the biting cold wind. While this exposure may shock some people, it was intended to discredit the unfair and inaccurate TV-image portrayal of ostomates.


Summit Gokyo Ri
The climb from Gokyo to Goyko Ri is a consistent slope of 39%. It is not a technical climb, but it does require persistence and a gritty mental attitude. 

After many hours of methodical 'mountain slow' climbing, we reached the summit of Gokyo Ri, where prayer flags snapped in the wind, wafting prayers to the gods.

There is a feeling of elation when reaching a summit ... after meeting the challenges and overcoming the apprehensions. Gokyo Ri tested our conditioning and acclimatization for higher summits to climb over the next few days.
But we quietly contemplated what it took to reach that summit:

> Power in legs to climb a vertical of 570m (1,871ft) ... with 50% oxygen to our bodies.

> Mental grit to force the body to keep moving, while suppressing doubts on personal abilities

> Overcoming Altitude Sickness symptoms of screamer headaches, lethargy, nausia
> That aggressive competitive spirit that will not tolerate a retreat or a quit 

Summit Kala Patthur
We would climb a vertical of 419m (1,376ft) with slopes as steep as 50%.  Kala Patthur is not a technical climb, but requires agility, power, and persistence to scramble through the massive rocks to the summit.  We were conscious of our Nepal2011 experience where only 5 of 20 climbers summitted.
A harsh wind blew over the Kala Patthur summit, and the prayer flags flew horizontally. We carefully climbed the small steep peak.
Mount Everest (Sagarmatha to the Nepalese) is always a special view, as she is the highest point on our planet.
At Kala Patthur, we were not at the top of the world,
but we could see it from there.
We were pleased with the ascent.  We had now climbed higher than previous summits and passes, and forced our bodies to acclimatize to the 50% oxygen levels.  And we had done this without Altitude Sickness symptoms and without anti-AMS medications. Kala Patthur was our last conditioning-climb, and we were as prepared as we could be for our climbing goal of Island Peak.

Summit Island Peak
The summit of Island Peak demanded a technical climb of 1124m (3690ft), with slopes at 64%, to an elevation of 6189m (20,306ft). A challenging climb, made much more extreme with only 50% oxygen levels.
Breathing at 50% oxygen levels? Think about running till you are falling-down-exhausted and gasping to breath, then immediately start breathing through a narrow straw and run the same distance again. Now think about climbing, sleeping, and living for days with that constant oxygen deprivation.

Climbing with technical gear?  If you've ever walked in ski boots, then add crampons with a dozen 5cm (2inch) spikes on each foot, then climb on a 45-60 degree slope ... well, you get the idea. 

We started at midnight, picking our steps carefully, lit only by our headlamps. The terrain was mixed - steep inclines, crevasses, sheer drops, rocks, ice, and sharp rocky ridges with fall-to-death edges on both sides.
Each pitch was progressively steeper than the last pitch, and fatigue and altitude started to take their toll. Earlier in the day, legs screamed tired ... later they just felt dead and would only move slowly and reluctantly when overpowered by the brain. One step, rest for minutes, try to breath, force another step. Redo. Again and again.

The last pitch looked steep and harsh, but suprisingly I felt strong, fluid, and energized. It was as if 
the mountain gave back some of the energy I had imparted with her that day.
We summitted Island Peak and attached our safety ropes. 
Of the 39 climbers attempting Island Peak that day, only 11 summitted. Our group of 3 old climbers, totaling 190 years of age, all summited. This was a hard-earned Bucket-List accomplishment. But the challenge was not over. Summitting was the goal, but getting down safely was what really mattered. It was a grueling trip down ...  exhausted from the physical exertion, wasted by the lack of oxygen, and without energy because our water and food was gone. Legs were unresponsive, and there was a raging contest between the legs saying 'no', and the brain saying 'go'. As if the physical challenges were not enough, I adapted to a grim 5 hours on the mountain without ostomy gear (see Skipping Stones).
Those of us who have experienced cancer or other life threats are familiar with "one day at a time". Descending Island Peak was a familiar "one step at a time". After 16 hours on the mountain, hungry, dehydrated, starved for oxygen, physically fatigued, and mentally drained, we stumbled into BaseCamp. We felt relief rather than jubilation after climbing Island Peak. Sleep came quickly.

We each have our own 'mountains to climb'

If these 2 ostomates can climb actual mountains ... 
Other ostomates can find that inner strength
to overcome their own mountains
Yes we can.  Ostomates can live ordinary, even extraordinary, lives.

 You can read the full stories at:

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Nepal 2012 Chitwan Park

After 4 weeks of trekking, and the exhaustion of summitting Island Peak, we were worn out.

Chitwan Park in Nepal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and seemed like a good place to relax and recharge before flying back to Canada.  It has a subtropical environment teeming with mammals, birds, reptiles, and vegetation... a welcome contrast to the cold bleak rock and ice near Mount Everest.

On an elephant Safari we were lucky enough to see rhinocerous, crocodiles, and so many birds.
In a village near the park, we met local people living now as their ancestors traditionally had
 (but with a conspicuous influence of Western clothing).

Seasonally, people still collect thatch grasses for roofing their huts.
Seemed dangerous to carry loads of thatch across a river frequented by crocodiles.

A visibly frustrated and irritable bull elephant was being worked to keep him tired and easier to control. It was breeding season and this old bull really wanted to be somewhere else. We were impressed with his physical power, massive tusks, and breeding gear.

Our day ended with a glorious sunset
and a rare glimpse of a lone rhino.

And a long look back at the mountains we had trekked and climbed.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Nepal 2012 Millions of Steps

I learned early in life that big Life-Goals are seldom reached unless we slice that Life-Goal into smaller steps and we work consistently to achieve those smaller steps... never losing sight of that big Life-Goal.

This truism was relevant for climbing mountains in Nepal, but also relevant for our own personal life goals.

Goal:   Climb Island Peak Mountain at 6189m (20,305ft)

This goal would be intimidatingly impossible if I thought of the overall commitment:
  • Live immersed in the 3rd world for a month
  • Persevere though extreme and harsh physical conditions
  • Trek 244kms (152miles) through rugged mountains near the top of the world
  • Climb a VERTICAL 26kms (16miles) ... equivalent to 31 trips UP the highest building in the world
  • At age 62
  • With a colostomy 

Sounds impossible, but I could target and handle...

  • One day at a time
  • The climbing-pitch in front of me, without thinking of the many climbing-pitches to come
  • The effort to reach the next ridge, ignoring the hundreds of ridges ahead of me
  • The 20 paces to that next rock, disregarding the thousands of paces remaining
  • The next single step - lungs aching for oxygen - brain demanding 'GO' - legs screaming 'NO'


To climb Island Peak seemed impossible. 

But one step at a time, 

for millions of steps, 
brought me to 
the Summit of Island Peak.

And so with life ...

Daunting life-changing goals
seem impossible to achieve

But with small steps
in the right direction every day
we can achieve our Life-Goals

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