Life goes on, unexpected things happen, both happy and sad. Either way, often we don’t always have time to plan. If you have been reading my stories, you know that several times I have written about how short life can be, how we never know when our time is up. Or when a situation might change, such as a job, health condition, etc. So, it’s best to appreciate every day, and live it to the fullest. Once I saw a sign that said, “Live each day as if it’s your last, because one of these days you are going to be right.” A billboard I saw in Albuquerque said: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”
Yesterday afternoon, I was talking with a friend from the Chambers Farm Pow Wow and he told me that unexpectedly yesterday morning, Christmas Eve Morning, a mutual friend of ours, artist Rex A. Begaye, had a massive heart attack and died. I’m sure like everyone else, I was in shock. We saw Rex at the Chambers Farm Pow Wow Thanksgiving weekend. Rex and I talked a few times over the weekend about many things including his artwork, and his plans for the future and taking his art in a different direction and doing what he loved. He also performed at the pow wow, his spot was right after my friend Albert Gray Eagle. Rex loved to entertain and share stories with the public. What a special person Rex was, and those who knew him will remember him fondly, and miss him a lot. Prayers are with his wife Barbara and their families and friends. I also saw Rex and Barbara at the Native Rhythms Flute Festival in November. As with others we have lost over the years, whenever we attend these events in the future, we will remember them. I know that I and others still miss Andrew who was an exceptional artist that made jewelry, especially wampum shell pieces. When I was talking with my friend Bear this morning, and talking about Rex’s unexpected passing since he looked healthy 3 weeks ago when we saw him.
Please take a few minutes and go to Rex’s website to see his amazing artwork and read the stories and poems he wrote, they are very touching. There are severalbuttons to explore on his website. Rex was a Navajo from near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. His artwork is unlike any you have seen. Rex’s talents and imagination lovingly created his unique artwork. Here is a story on U Tube that Rex made called The Consciousness of Art.
I’m sure those of you reading this have similar experiences where a friend of yours passed suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s sad in a way, our loved ones are in a place of peace, yet, we here on Earth miss them. I know from my own death experience in 1982 that I was in a loving, safe, and peaceful place with my Higher Power/Creator/God, whatever you chose to say. Here it is the end of December. In the beginning of the year neither my doctor or I thought I would live until the end of the year. In May, when I came back from my trip early due to worsening health, we thought I wouldn’t live until the end of June. And yet, I’m still here. I thought I would rather know what’s coming and have the time to spend with friends, make sure all my documents are in order, make a difference in the world, etc. I was thinking this morning, it is good to a certain point to have this extra time. Those who love me, and also those who have gotten to know me the past six or so months, like that I’m still alive. I know when I’ve been close to people who are terminal that sometimes it’s difficult. When I talk with them or see them, is this the last time I will be able to? I never knew. Perhaps, now, with me, some are going through the same feelings and thoughts. When I watched the July 4th fireworks, or had Thanksgiving with friends, I wondered if I this is my last time? Will I be around next year for the fireworks? The pow wow? None of us knows… we only have right this minute. We don’t even have tonight yet, or tomorrow.
I don’t think it’s easy either way… either suddenly or spread out for a time. There are pros and cons to both sides. Not having someone suffer, is a good thing. Suffering can be emotional, physical, and even spiritual, for both the ill person and the ones that love them. Sometimes I think, if I knew I would still be alive the end of December, I might have continued my trip and not come back the beginning of May. However, I know that if I hadn’t then all that has happened the past 6 or so months also would not have happened, and it’s been a big blessing to me and many others. My story and experiences would be completely different. Different experiences, meeting different people. I’m almost positive that my life would not have made the dramatic impact with volunteer fire departments and other organizations. Yes, I would have traveled around the country seeing more sights, exploring more National Parks and other places. But it would not have left an imprint of my life and heart like this journey has done. I don’t have regrets over the decision made earlier this year.
Physically, I knew taking a trip in 2013 would be extremely challenging, but so was my trip during 2011 and 2012. In fact, I think it was probably more challenging physically during those 2 years than this year has been.
In earlier posts, I wrote that I had 4 major operations in 2010. That was in addition to the many I had prior to that time. During 2010 and early 2011, I was in constant pain and had complications from those operations. That was what helped me decide to retire at the age of 60 ½ and travel in my camper van. Even though I was in intense pain most of the time when I traveled during 2011 and 2012, I didn’t write about it, or how it impacted my travels and the limitations I had when exploring National Parks and other places. Only a few very close friends knew about my health condition and what I was experiencing. At that time, only friends knew about my website and were keeping up with my travels. I didn’t want them worrying about me while I was away. Also, back then, I didn’t have the tumor which would be shortening my life by years. Usually, I was able to control the pain with Aleve a couple of times a day, not always, but frequently. The rest of the time I just toughed it out.
When I was talking with a few friends recently, they said in my 2011 and 2012 stories I should have included my health challenges and limitations due to pain and operations. They told me that my story is inspiring others and that it lets people know that even though there are health challenges, and even now that it’s a terminal condition, that there is still life to be lived and experiences to enjoy. That a person doesn’t have to sit around waiting to die or say I have limitations so I won’t do anything. They said it might inspire others to have a more active life. So, I said I would write and let you know what I went through back then.
At that time, it was more of a personal journey. My doctor had told me that at some point, the scar tissue and adhesions would block my intestine and I knew it would be inoperable. No timeframe was given, it could have been months or many years. I was determined to live life to the fullest. I still am.
I did not have a tumor at that time, I found it in September 2012. During the times where the pain was so intense, I had thoughts of stopping my trip and coming back. But, then I thought that if I did then IT (the pain and limitations) would win and I was determined not to let IT win. So, I just pushed on. I told my friends that I would include something in my story now letting people know what I went through during those 2 years so when you read the stories you will know a little more about what I experienced healthwise and emotionally.
When you read the 2011 and 2012 stories, know that the pain was almost constant. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, it was usually between a 5 and 10. Occasionally, the Aleve or the grace of God would let it be a 3 or 4 for a while. Driving was not always easy, especially when I was driving in the mountains or on very winding roads because I had to grip the steering wheel tighter and use the brakes a lot more. All this strained my abdominal muscles which is where my pain was. Also, I sometimes would drive for more than 10 hours a day, sometimes 400 or 500 miles a day. It just depended on what I pushed myself to do, or where I wanted to be. Sometimes, it was because I didn’t know as I drove what I would find. Like when I thought I would drive about 30 miles to Mount Rushmore (June 2011), I thought, I could drive there and back to the campground in a few hours. I had no idea it would take me 2 hours to drive there. The road was steep and winding almost the entire way. It was really tough on my body, then to walk through the park. I have to tell you, it was not easy… but I did it.
Other times, when I couldn’t go on, I would stay in a campground for a few days and just sit and read, or take a short excursion to explore. I remember being at a campground on the Washington/Oregon border and crying sitting by a campfire because the pain was so intense and I didn’t want to feel it anymore and I was tired of hurting. I called a friend who knew what I was going through and I was able to cry talking with him and tell him my true feelings. Then, a few days later I drove on… still in pain and still determined to continue the trip. I didn’t want IT to win…
There were lots of times I had to compromise with myself, and not be frustrated, sad, or feel like I’m missing out on something. For example, when I went to several of the National Parks I wanted to hike long trails like I did in prior years, which you can see in my Zion, Bryce, and Glacier National Park story (December 2013). God spared me at some locations… I couldn’t feel bad for not hiking trails at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Crater Lake, and Mount Ranier since there was so much snow in June and July that most of the trails were closed to hikers. So, I walked a few short trails or stopped at overlooks when they were available. You can see the snow in the stories and photo albums in June and July 2011. I bet the park visitors didn’t know the above average snow falls, that were on the ground longer than usual, were for me and other like me. God planned it so we wouldn’t be be upset that we couldn’t even hike the easy trails because they were snow covered.
In August 2011, when I was in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, and Dead Horse Point State Park, in Utah, the temperatures were about 102 degrees, so once again, I couldn’t do long hikes. I did a few that were about a half mile and it was more than enough, especially when it was up part of a mountain. I stopped at all the scenic overlooks to take pictures. The heat and higher altitude made it more challenging and I would have to take breaks along the way to catch my breath. I learned that the zoom feature on my camera was a great feature, and I used it often. At Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, there were 2 trails. One was a harder 1.5 mile hike, the other a shorter .5 mile hike. I took the shorter and still steep hike and took a picture across the distance using the zoom. It was still a tough hike and needed several rests along the way. At the Paddle to Swinomish and Paddle to Squaxin canoe journeys in Washington State, July 2011 and July 2012, I would take periods of time to lay down and rest and hitch a ride on a golf cart so I didn’t have to always walk the distances from the camper to the event grounds.
At the Balloon Fiesta, I pushed myself hard. I didn’t want to miss anything. This was a long time dream come true to be there. I got up early to crew, then I volunteered at the Balloon Discovery Center, and then went to the camper and rested for a few hours I before helping out again in the afternoon and evening. Even though I hurt, I still did almost everything. I guess my stubborn streak and pride, along with determination, kept me going.
Every now and then, during those 2 years, I did have days where I just crashed and didn’t do anything except eat, read, and rest. When I was visiting with friends in Texas, they knew what my health condition was and they made sure that I rested more often, I took naps during the day, and they watched over me. One of the things I learned during those 2 years of traveling was that I could just be. I didn’t have to always be doing something. It took a while after I started out on my trip to realize that. I had worked continually for over 43 years, and now, I had no deadlines. I didn’t have to live by a watch and calendar anymore. It was a great freedom. I pretty much gave up wearing a watch. I still got up early most days, and found that I would take naps in the afternoons frequently. I didn’t make reservations in campgrounds because I didn’t want to be on a schedule. Sometimes, I would get to a destination and decided after exploring it that I wanted to continue on. Other times, I wanted to stay longer than I planned. Other times, people told me places to visit along my route, or I would detour to a place someone recommended, a sign I saw, or somewhere I read about in a brochure I picked up along the way. Freedom once again… it was a great expedition and I had lots of great experiences. I didn’t let my health condition affect too much what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. There were a few times I got to a campground and there were no vacant spots, so I would drive until I found a place to stop. Sometimes it was a store parking lot, or a small camping area off the beaten path. Once in a while, that extra unexpected driving distance was difficult physically, but I did it.
So, now, when you read my adventures during the first two years (2011 and 2012), you will know that even though I had all these amazing experiences, it wasn’t always easy… but it most definitely was fun and very interesting.
I didn’t mention my 2013 adventures and experiences yet, other than what I’ve written in previous stories. I have been in often intense pain this year too. It’s a different type of pain due to the tumor, I’m on medicine now to lessen the pain, and I have more limitations as to the distance I can drive, and my energy level. I am still determined not to let IT win… now the tumor is included in the IT… I know it will win in the end, but I’m not letting it win easily… I know I have no control over how it’s growing and what it’s affecting. I do have control over what I choose to do and how I chose to live (to some extent), and what I feel and think. I continue to feel extremely blessed and I still have an attitude of gratitude. I’m very grateful for so much. I know that I have many more friends and people that love me and that I love.
My pain level is still increasing, especially in the afternoon and evening, and it begins earlier in the day, and sometimes in the morning. Hurting is definitely not fun. I have several close friends with serious health issues that include lots of constant pain. We freely talk about what we are experiencing. It helps us to know we are not alone and that despite what we are experiencing we are all living life to the fullest that we can. We are all still active to the best of our ability at any given time, and that we know our lives are making a positive difference in the lives of others. Sometimes we are learning and teaching and being an example to others. Our friends and others are seeing that even though we are having these challenges that we aren’t just sitting around waiting. We are not victims, we are conquerors.