“How about going ziplining,” our friend suggested. My first thought was, Absolutely! That sounds fun, I have always wanted to try it. My second thought was, Wait, what about my ostomy? How will my pouching system hold up to zipping through the air in a harness attached to a cable? Not to mention that there won’t be any restrooms for three hours. What if my pouch explodes or leaks? Maybe I should hold off.
Some fears keep you alive– like being afraid to climb higher on a route because it is above your ability, or being terrified of a river crossing because you know it might sweep you off of your feet and send you into the rapids. But there are also those fears that don’t have such dire consequences. The ones that pop into our heads and stop us from doing things that would actually be rewarding and good for us.
I recognized that the fears that were trying to stop me from going ziplining were of the latter variety and purged them from my head. I knew I could go 4-5 hours before draining my pouch– even longer if I pushed it a bit and let my appliance fill up a tad more. I knew the harness would likely cause no problems and that I was strong enough for the adventure. There was no reason not to give it a try.
We signed up for a 5-stage tour through the tree tops at the Crested Butte ski resort. One of the rules was that you couldn’t carry anything in your hands, so I guzzled a bunch of water to avoid getting dehydrated. Then we met with our guides and harnessed up. Much to my delight, the bulky, adjustable one-size-fits all harnesses still worked fine with my pouch. The upper part of the hip belt sat well above my stoma, and the harness barely touched my appliance.
Once we were suited up, we walked up the ski hill to the first platform, where we would begin our ziplining adventure. After some instruction from our guides, we were ready to go. I watched as each member of our group stepped off the edge and zipped across, making it look easy. Finally, it was my turn. I have spent countless hours in a harness scaling rock faces, some of them over 1000 feet tall. Still, when I walked up to that edge and looked down to the ground 40 feet below, the butterflies started dancing in my stomach. I moved my gaze to the next platform. It was over 300 feet away. The only thing between the two stations was a thin wire cable. It is one thing to methodically climb up a rock face, it is another thing entirely to step off an edge and zoom over a void at 35 mph. Still, despite the fear that was creeping into me, I knew I could handle it. All I had to do was take that step. I felt like Wile E. Coyote in the old Road Runner cartoons as I counted to three and simply walked off the edge. For a second I felt myself drop, but soon the webbing extending from my harness to the cable caught me and I was flying through the air. Fear turned to elation as I sailed across the expanse and made it safely to the next platform. There were four more expanses after that one, and each one got easier and easier. When I finally lowered to the ground after the last zip, I couldn’t stop smiling. The adventure had been amazing. I thought about how much I would have missed out on had I given into the fear and not gone.
Before surgery, I was on a platform of sorts– and it was crumbling. It was full of sickness, hospitals, pain and drugs that made me feel ill. Across an expanse was a separate platform in much better condition. It held hope for renewed health and all the things that feeling better would bring. I knew surgery was my best chance at getting across the abyss and to that place, but I was scared. I looked down and saw all the things that could go wrong. What if something happened during surgery? What if living with an ostomy pouch was a leaky, messy nightmare? What if the place over there was really no better than where I was? Fear of the unknown made me want to cling to my current spot indefinitely.
But I knew standing on a crumbling platform would get me nowhere and that eventually it would collapse. I had to ignore those butterflies dancing in my stomach; I had to take that step into the unknown. At 6:30 a.m. on November 8th, 2010, I mustered every bit of courage I had and walked into the hospital to check into pre-op. From there, my amazing surgeon, Dr. Craig Brown, helped me cross the expanse to that place of better health, while my friends and family cheered for me along the way. Though the ride was bumpy and difficult and didn’t make me smile at first, fear eventually gave way to elation as I realized that place on the other side of surgery was all that I had hoped for.