There is a place I always go back to. It is on the bealach between An Riabhachan and Sgùrr na Lapaich. A flat well-drained bit of ground in the lee of the first rise of the ridge to the summit of Sgùrr na Lapaich, a tent pitched secure under a midsummer storm. It was my fourth night out – the first under the pinnacles on the ridge to the east of Carn Eighe, and the next two in the vast bowl of Gleann a’ Choilich under Mam Sodhail. I had bagged ten of the Mullardoch dozen and knew that with this weather and my stumbling about I would need to spend another night out. So I did.
There were nights in the mountains in my youth that were more challenging perhaps, under wind, rain, searing heat, ice, infestations of midges, flies, cleggs, in a similar tent pitched all over this beautiful country, from Durness to The Mounth, from The Trossachs to the Outer Isles. But this time, because of my condition, the challenges seemed more prescient, brought more sharply into focus. I was faced with a choice: succumb or live.
In the tent I can always create the warmth required to keep me alive. And I know that from wherever I camp, I can look at the map and immediately see that in an absolute emergency there is a way down into safer weather and easier ground. I keep my wits about me and I know what I can and cannot do. But I am also stubborn. Which infuriates my nearest and dearest, but at the same time makes it possible for me to continue, never to succumb, always to live.
The next morning the weather did not really seem much better. But I knew that after a night of rest and sleep, even in this weather I would be able to get the the summit of Sgùrr na Lapaich and then to complete the dozen before getting back to the car at lunch. This is what I did. As I clambered along squiggly paths, over boulder fields and under dark cliffs on the way off Sgùrr na Lapaich, the clouds blew away to reveal the smiling summer mountains all around.
I go back to that place on the bealach between these two giants of the wilderness, because there I find again my strength, my stubborn refusal to succumb, my desire to live, to celebrate this precious gift of life, this chance to be alive and breathing. But sometimes I have to ask others for help. I have to recognise that I cannot do everything all on my own, and that others very often want to help – in whatever way they can.
So I made a crowdfunding page where I tell the story of my life at this moment.
Nearly five years ago I was diagnosed with aggressive and malignant prostate cancer. The medics said I would likely die within three years – even if I took the medication they prescribed.
I refused to accept this. Instead of immediately starting on the course of medication to which the cancer would in such a short time become immune, I changed my lifestyle completely. I cut out all dairy products, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, coffee and meat. I ate only fresh fruit and vegetables, supplemented with wholemeal bread, crackers and certain nuts.
During the course of the last four years my dietary discipline has sometimes lapsed, but not often, and I have also been able to develop assorted mental and physical strategies that contribute, in spite of the presence of the disease, to my continuing relative good health. These include the use of assorted superfoods, dietary supplements and special substances.
I have also accepted – eventually – the medication offered by the medics, which has now reached the point where it does not work any more. As the medics predicted, the cancer has indeed become resistent to the medication, so all I now have to rely on is my stubborn refusal to succumb to the disease, my healthy and predominantly organic diet and the special supplements I take.
This costs money. I am only able to work part-time, although I am fortunate that I do not have to pay rent where I live. But I continue to spend more than I make and my savings are dwindling – to the point that soon I will no longer be able to pay for the dietary supplements, which contribute to my healthy lifestyle and my continuing efforts to ensure the disease is kept at bay for as long as possible.
If you were to look at me now, you would not be able to see that there is anything wrong with me. In fact there are rogue cancerous prostate cells coursing through my lymph system. Every morning when I wake I can feel where they have gathered together overnight. I experience something like a cross between having been poisoned and nausea. After I get up and move into the day with my special diet, meditation and sensible exercise, I feel the cancerous cells in my lymph system dispersing again. I like to think that every morning with this regime I feel a little better.
Certainly, I feel good enough from time to time to get out into the great outdoors and to climb mountains, and more importantly, to inspire others to get out too and to encourage everybody who is facing challenging circumstances – whether medical, physical, emotional, mental or spiritual – that being alive is a much better option than succumbing to circumstances.
As the Dalai Lama oft repeats: Never give up.