Mountains for Mothers: 

Providing support and awareness to mothers with cancer

Why mountains for mothers?

As a mother the day to day routine-shuffling kids around, preparing meal after meal, helping with homework, finding time for our partners, work, and maintaining a home, is sometimes challenging. On some days it leaves us exhausted. On those particularly hard days when so much is piled on our plate, it feels as though we are climbing a mountain. For a mother who has cancer-enduring treatments, exhaustion, living with uncertainty and financial strain, the mountain is steep and scary and everyday is a climb.

Seven years ago I was pregnant for the first time and despite having ran for over 15 years, it was then I wanted to try trail running. Although I had put in minimal mileage in three years, after the birth of my second daughter, I had a burning desire to run on mountain trails, deep in the backcountry and escape the daily sometimes monotonous and challenging routine of being a mother. I longed for the much needed peace and serenity this would give me, not to mention pushing my body physically in a way that was lacking in my life.

The years with two pregnancies, babies and a toddler did not help facilitate this dream.  My youngest was six months old and I finally started to train in hopes to run the Canadian Death Race, when I endured a back injury resulting in a year of physiotherapy treatments. I could not run for the next two years. As part of my recovery, I walked and walked and dreamed of the day I could run on mountain trails. I slowly added some running on the track, first two minutes then five and eventually I worked up to ten minutes of running outside.

Then my mom was diagnosed with a rare cancer. And for awhile I stopped running. And I stopped walking.  After three months it became apparent that I needed to run not so much for my physical recovery as for my emotional wellbeing. Walking with short running intervals became my crutch, my way of coping with the deep pain in my heart. It was how I managed to get through the day with two small girls and a mother who was battling an aggressive cancer.

In those minutes I was able to run I dreamed more than ever of running on a trail deep in the mountains in the middle of nowhere where I could bathe in sunlight and feel the healing powers of Mother Nature. And where I could briefly escape the very real fear I faced everyday; would my mother survive this? Would she be around to watch my girls grow and help me on my mothering journey?

It was during those runs I was able to let go of my anxieties and fear and simply feel the exertion of my body.  In that desperate search for escape and in the blissful moments I was finally able to run freely with no pain, I dreamed of recovery for my back, healing for my mother, and most importantly hope for all mothers facing cancer. I dreamed that I would trail run one day and that somehow I would get through this challenging time and become stronger as a result. And I dreamed through my own experience I would one day support mothers with cancer.

Thus the idea of mountains for mothers was born. An idea with a singular purpose: I would raise awareness and support for mothers with cancer. And I would do so by running, climbing, hiking, or scrambling up mountains, a small effort on my part to shoulder some of the load a mother with cancer carries up her mountain.

Welcome to Mountains for Mothers; a journey of hope, inspiration, and connection.

In honour of my mother, Anne Schmidt, and all mothers who face the challenging climb with cancer.

Intention

To provide mothers with cancer a place of support, connection and community, a place where they can feel nurtured during this challenging journey.

Purpose/Mission

  • To raise awareness of the unique challenges that mothers with cancer face
  • To support mothers with cancer  on a practical, financial, and emotional level
  • To create a space for mothers with cancer to share and talk with one another to help ease this difficult and transitional time
  • To connect mothers with cancer to valuable community resources

Hope

It is my hope that women with cancer, whether a young mother or a new grandmother, will come together and create a community with a common thread of hope, healing and sense of connectedness.

EVENTS

Coming Fall 2013

Mindful Emotions

A yoga based workshop with a focus on learning to connect with the mind and body during times of deep emotion and intensity. Facilitated by Sandy Ayre, a yoga instructor dedicated to teaching yoga as a supportive tool for life changes and transitions and Janelle Schmidt.

Mountains for Mothers: Weekly Peer Support Circle

A 7 week circle connecting mother’s with cancer.

Facilitated by Janelle Schmidt with guest speakers.

Check back for more information this summer.


Cancer Mountain

I breathe in the cold air. Every muscle in my body flexes, then releases. One slow step at a time. Breathe. Step. Breathe.  I am pushing toward the small peak of Kala Patthar, our final destination on Pumori Mountain.  I have ascended and descended a total equivalent to the height of Everest. After fifteen challenging days of trekking in the Himalayas, I am about to gaze at the world’s highest mountain from my vantage point high above sea level, the highest I have ever stood.

 I recall the many exhausting days it took to reach this moment. The days where my body was racked by the flu and sleepless nights were spent in rudimentary lodges. I shudder at the inescapable cold, days of rain, snow, and sparse views. And the challenging days I was struck by acute mountain sickness, a nauseating headache, and an unshakable feeling of not being able to breathe in enough oxygen.

But as I approach the summit, the weariness of the previous days melt and the effects of altitude subside. All I feel is the exertion of my body; all thoughts are lost as I move forward and up, one step at a time. Breathe. Step. Breathe. I stop and soak up the scenery. I’m in awe at the beauty that surrounds me, this force of nature. Time erases as I stand and stare at the expansive views all around.

Since my mother was diagnosed with a rare cancer, I feel as though we are climbing a mountain, and like the trek to Pumo Ri, the path along this mountain is arduous with many risks and obstacles encountered along the way.  The climb is unpredictable and it, too, can take a turn for the worse in an instant. We do not know if she will reach the much anticipated precipitous summit- the pinnacle of healing and recovery. But we keep moving forward and up. One day at a time.

Climbing this mountain alongside my mother leaves me feeling open and exposed. My emotions raw and searing; I am overwhelmed every day by the stark steepness of the journey. I feel as though I am walking a tight line stretched across an abysmal terrain.  And at any given moment I can fall on either side.

Fearing the fall into the unknown leaves me holding my body rigid. Equal to the effort required to climb a high peak, holding together my grieving self takes extensive energy, and I am exhausted most days. Crumbling to the ground and feeling the earthen floor below provides a momentary release but I must not stay long lest my legs get heavy and tired and I choose not to carry on.

Unlike the impressive scenery in the Himalayas, the views on this journey are sparse. Rather than soaking up at the vast beauty of nature I am staring deeply into my soul. I have begun to question everything. Why is the happening at this moment in my life?  Is there a lesson for me? For my mother?  Why are we on this journey together? I am drained many days and I realize I must not delve too deeply into the woods of my wounded soul or I may forever be lost. I need to continue the climb. Breathe. Step. Breathe. 

 When I hike among the mountains, I feel connected to nature. Since climbing this mountain, I feel more connected to people. At a restaurant I see a woman with a scarf wrapped around her head, her cheeks somewhat sunken in, her body frail, and I instinctively know she is climbing the mountain. Her route to the summit may be different, but I know her load is heavy.  Although we do not exchange words, I feel for her. I am keenly aware of the one human condition we all encounter; we will one day face our own death. And it brings a sense of connectedness to humanity that I have never before experienced.

Like the lessons I have learned through my travels in the mountains, I am reminded I need many things on this climb. I need fuel and water to keep me going, even when I don’t feel like eating.  Important as a hiking pole, I need the support of empathetic people who have climbed this mountain to help cushion and absorb some of the shock.

 I need to trust my ability to move soundly through this treacherous new terrain, and to know that, as one dear friend who climbed this mountain with her mother before told me, whatever happens-whatever the outcome, I will be ok. With each passing day, this becomes my mantra; whatever happens, whether or not we reach the summit, I will be ok. I will be ok.

I stare out the window. The rain is pelting down. It seems the rain comes with every challenging day we get bad news. My mom begins to cry. It is one of the only times I have seen her shed any tears since her diagnosis. “I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t live not knowing. I don’t want to wait another three months to find out if everything is ok.” I reach for her hand in a small attempt to comfort her. I listen to her. I can not to take away the pain, the fear, the uncertainty. We sit silently, my hand on top of her hand and I am trembling inside. 

We are in a restaurant waiting for our lunch as I am forcing back tears. My sisters returned to work after her appointment. They had no way of knowing the CAT scan would come back with an enlarged suspicious lymph node and a foreboding spot on her liver. The doctor reassured us that it could be damage from the invasive surgery she endured three months earlier and the suspicious lymph node was still within normal range. That it could be nothing. But despite her attempts at reassuring, it was yet another one of the many obstacles on this climb that suddenly made it steeper and scarier.

Since my mom’s diagnosis, the clock continues to tick minute by minute, hour by hour, but for me time has suspended. Like climbing a difficult exposed section on the mountain where every step counts and only the sound of your breath can be heard, I am more in tune with living in the moment. I am reminded to stop and soak up every single day.  When the sadness subsides I ground myself in my body. Each day, I face the challenging climb with a renewed sense of hope yet not blinded optimism.  And somehow I carry on, one day at a time. Breathe. Step. Breathe.