Chapter Thirty-Five: Cancer, And Beyond

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

Our time on the Hill in 1999 was abruptly cut short by illness. Sally noticed some urinary bleeding on 25 August when we stopped at restrooms on our way back from a day trip to Burlington, Vermont. It didn't get better in the next couple days. Still hoping it was a common bladder infection, we got her in to see my urologist, Dr. Garcia, in Berlin. An x-ray showed a probable tumor in her kidney or bladder; a cat scan confirmed she had tumors in her kidney and possibly in her bladder. Dr. Garcia was very straightforward; go home, he said, and have it taken care of in Oregon. On 12 September, we were headed West.

Sally did have a malignant tumor in one kidney; her bladder was okay, but there were tumors in the duct between the kidney and bladder. Fall and winter were taken up with surgery (one kidney had to be removed), followed by chemotherapy.

Both of us tried to prepare for the worst, somewhere in the middle of "worst" possibilities being that we'd never be able to get back to Camp together. But spring came, and she was pronounced "cured." On 5 May 2000, we were once again on our way back to Camp. We made a long summer of it, not starting back to Oregon until 15 October. Remembering how sick Sally had been, we took it easy and stayed pretty much around Camp. Although there was still logging going on around the Hill, it was all distant from us, and our little oasis was as peaceful as it had been for several years.

In Oregon, Sally had started to knit colorful "chemo hats," to cheer people who had lost their hair during cancer treatment. She spent a lot of her time at Camp continuing the project, and we made a number of trips to the Berlin hospital to deliver her good will offerings.


When we returned to Camp in early May 2001, cancer seemed a long way in our past. Still, we hadn't done anything very strenuous since her cure, so we spent our first month on the Hill in fairly low key activities. We hadn't been in the White Mountains since before Sally's mom had died in 1993, and one thing that Sally had thought of doing was scattering some of Calista's ashes near Slim's memorial plaque on Mt. Washington. On 9 June, we set out to accomplish that.

Saturday 9 June 2001 - Lovely blue sky day, only a few evening clouds. Low 37.8F, high 74.5F. Don’t know about bugs because we were off the Hill all day [and night].

We left camp about 0600, drove to Bretton Woods, and took the 0900 cog railroad to the summit of Mt. Washington. Our intent to visit Slim’s plaque above Lakes of the Clouds hut and leave some of Calista’s ashes there. The trip started pretty well, with a lovely windy, mostly clear day as we climbed down the summit cone to Lakes. We were very slow, but were doing okay. At the hut, Sally realized she was too tired to make the climb up to the plaque. None of the current hut crew knew about the plaque (placed there somewhat against Forest Service rules about memorials), so I made a quick trip up to show the hut master where it was. Sally got an hour’s rest at the hut.


Sally was still pretty tired when I got back from my trip to the plaque, and it was getting fairly late in the day. We asked about staying overnight at Lakes, but they were completely full. It seemed we either had to go back to the summit, to catch the last train down the mountain, or continue down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. The Ammy is steep, but was the shortest route back to our car. Soon after we started down, it became obvious that we had misjudged our physical abilities, as well as the length and roughness of the trail. By 1900 or so, we knew we couldn’t make it back to the car that evening. We found a semi-flat spot, and prepared to spend a cold night. We had warm clothes [except on our legs and damp feet], and food and water, so we weren’t in any real danger, but were certainly uncomfortable. Two young men from Rochester, NY, cut some conifer boughs for us and left extra food, water and clothing, and promised to tell of our plight to the folks at the Base Station. We also sent word back up to Lakes with some young men. Our cell phone hadn't been able to make any connections when we were on the summit, but we were able to reach Sarah Cordwell in Dummer, who eventually reached someone who contacted the state troopers in Twin Mountain.

About 2300, two of the hut crew from Lakes found us, and shortly after a group from the Appalachian Mountain Club at Crawford's, plus a man from the cog, came up from the Base Station. It was decided that they would walk us out to the Base Station that night. We started down the Ammy with headlamps, two or three people supporting Sally at all times, and me walking along behind on increasingly tired and rubbery legs. Midnight found us still on the steep part of the Ammy.

Sunday 10 June 2001 - The Ammy saga continued: The rescue went on and on and on and on. Neither of us could believe how far from the Base Station we had been, or how rough the trail was. We moved steadily all night, but didn’t get to the Base Station until close to 0530. There was an ambulance there waiting to check Sally’s vital signs (good, overall), then we drove home, stopping briefly to thank Sarah for her part in the adventure.

Once home, we both slept almost the entire day. We were awake for a brief visit with Bruce and Reggie at midday, then back to sleep again. We were both [not so amazingly] extremely stiff and sore.

No excuse for our problems: we just screwed up. I was embarrassed about having to be "rescued," and chagrined that we had put our rescuers at some risk with the night time adventure. (However, they probably loved the outing!) On the other hand, Sally maintained good spirits throughout, and really considered it a wonderful day. I have to admit, it was great to be on the Mountain, again!

Monday 11 June 2001 - Distant electrical activity during the night - saw lightning, didn’t hear the thunder. We got at least one shower, but the rain gage only registered a Trace. Morning clear and warm for several hours, but was clouded over by noon, with rumbling thunder. Overcast the rest of the day, but no rain by nightfall. Low 44.4F, high 74.8F. Black flies and mosquitoes both “bad,” but not in great numbers.

We were both still very stiff and sore from the Ammy adventure. We kept moving around to help loosen muscles, but didn’t do anything significant.

The first lemon lily bloomed today. Others will not be far behind. Irises are showing color, too. There are still lots of lily-of-the-valley in bloom. In the field, the fleabane is getting colorful, and there are lots of hawkweed buds [but none open, yet].

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