Category: Bucket List Update

Bucket List Travel, Treks, To Do’s and Exploration

Help Support Gary & MPN Research Foundation

This story is the epitome of a LiFE is NOW… moment, and we are pushing to help support Gary and the MPN Research Foundation. We are pledging $10 of every select Mountain High product sold will go to MPN Research in Gary’s name. Click here to purchase Mountain High gear and support Gary. Rather, however, than try to write the story we will let Gary tell it as he has on is Facebook account.

Gary in his Mountain High tee for MPN research

As an avid hiker I assumed the pain in my toes was from my descents down the mountains but when it didn’t go away I assumed it was something else. I tried insoles. I went to the podiatrist but the burning still occurred. The frequency increased. This past December 2021 my doctor ordered blood tests. Those tests detected an elevated platelet count and I was sent to an oncologist who did more blood tests that detected a JAK 2 mutation. I had no idea what that was. The oncologist told me I had Essential Thrombocytosis, a blood cancer known as a Myoproliferative Neoplasm. Once I heard “blood cancer” I think I heard the doctor’s every-other-word. I was shocked and couldn’t believe it. I decided to go to Boston to get a second opinion. Dr. Hobbs, from MGH, ordered more blood work and a bone biopsy. I was then diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera, another Myoproliferative Neoplasm, a blood cancer that elevates red blood cells and can effect platelet count. PV trumps ET. She recommended I immediately start phlebotomy therapy every two weeks. Having a fear of needles this was, and still is, a harrowing thought. When the doctor told me I had a rare blood cancer, that word “cancer” hit me hard. What did I need to do? How much time did I have? What will Jess do? Is my will in order? Should I arrange my funeral so my family doesn’t have to? I need to repair everything on the house that I’ve been putting off. Do I tell my kids? My Dad can’t lose a third child before he passes!

The word “Cancer” holds so much power if we let it. I asked my doctor how much time I had. She said as long as I follow all of the recommendations I should live at least another 14-20 years, if not longer. I needed to do everything possible to combat a blood clot and hope that it did not mutate into Leukemia. Okay, what do I need to do?

She gave me a list:

1.Lose weight; (I then dropped 30 pounds since Christmas and the Cougars Den’s profits fell 33%)

2. Follow a heart healthy diet and stay away from iron-rich foods

3. Stay away from sugar

4. Stay away from red meat

5. Take aspirin every day

6. Undergo phlebotomy treatment

7. Exercise every day

I felt empowered. It’s a “Cancer.” It’s one that can be managed but not cured. I started to realize I had some control. This was not going to define me or stop me from living a happy & joyful life. “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what” (Lee; To Kill a Mocking Bird). I believe optimism and hope are disciplines. I refuse to let go of them. With the constant support of Jess we carved out yet another plan. I told the kids. Yes, I started repairing the house, No, I haven’t told my Dad, there’s no need. I will not burden him with this. What next? I have hiked all over New England and New York including the “The New Hampshire 48- 4000 footers,” and “The New England 67- 4000 footers”. I have also done some hiking in Scotland. In my life whenever I face struggles I take to the mountains. It allows me to focus my mind and spirit on my “next steps.” It’s where I go to recharge. I needed to have a positive impact on my circumstances.

I decided I would attempt to hike a big one on my bucket list- the Long Trail in Vermont; a 272 mile (with 65,370 feet of elevation gain) hike from south to north through the entire State of Vermont, as a fundraiser. I always wanted to hike it- why not do it with a purpose? I have never attempted anything that would place me on the trail for this long. Success is attained step by step much like hiking. While hiking you will slip and fall, you will deal with pain and discomfort. You will be wet and cold, you will descend and ascend but you will also witness bucolic vistas, magnificent sunrises & sunsets, babbling brooks, majestic waterfalls, cooling rivers, industrious wildlife, smells and scents that feed the soul. Hiking is an easy metaphor for life. One that fuels my spirit. Once you ascend to the mountaintop you invariably descend to the col or valley only to eventually ascend another mountain. In Life we will have successes but “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” Churchill. Those times in the valley, literally and figuratively, that is where we reflect, where we gain our strength to ascend again; to gain perspective and understanding. The trail trains my approach to life. Although the trail is long and the seed is sowed I’ll meet you further on up the trail. One sunny morning we’ll rise I know and I’ll meet you further on up the trail.

If you feel so inclined I would appreciate if you would please consider donating to the Myelproliferative Neoplasms Research Foundation (MPN Research Foundation).

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Horseback Riding on the Beach

The saying goes, “kill two birds with one stone”; well, we slightly modified it but kept the same intent – “Cross off two Bucket List items in one trip”!  That trip was to the Bahamas where we were able to Swim with the Dolphins as well as Horseback Ride on the Beach.  If you’ve read the post Swim with the Dolphins then you know the weather was not all that accomodating for us on this trip or any trip for that matter, however the day we planned to ride horses on the beach the planets aligned and we had scorching sun, crystal clear caribbean waters and a long, beautiful stretch of sandy beach.  First dolphins now horses.  It is amazing to interact with another living organism other than human.  As you sit atop these magnificent creatures your attention is divided between taking in the absolutely gorgeous scenery around you and feeling the horse move and adjust below you.

Heading out along beach

We booked our excursion through Trikk Pony and Leo (the owner) was a gracious host.  In fact, she thought we only had two people in our party and had only two horses for the three of us, to which I indicated Bella and J should go and I would sit it out but the other group would not allow it, neither would Leo.  She drove us all back to the stables, picked up another horse and off we went to the beach.  I’m glad they all insisted.  It was magnificent.

We started out in a small wooded area that you could see likely led to a beach but you had no concept of what it was like as you exited from the shade of the trees onto a secluded white sand beach with nothing but caribbean water in front of you.

J riding along the beach

As we made our way along the beach the sun seemed to get hotter (if that was possible) but just as this was happening Leo indicated it was time to let the horses cool off and drink in the water.  Fantastic!  The horses waded into the water and you could feel the water creep its way up your feet, ankles and legs.

J entering the ocean as the sun got hotter

We spent nearly half the trip wading in the water which was magnificent since you could see clear through to the bottom and which was a bonus when a stingray decided to follow us.  We were told we  had to be careful as the horses do get spooked by the stingrays.  I tried to capture a photo but all I got was clear caribbean waves and dark image that could have been an old tee shirt underwater.  Too bad, it was amazing.

The group wading along the edge. Notice the water!!

J & Bella wading with horses

Our host, Leo

One of my favorite photos!

On our return trip we all stopped to admire a starfish on the sandbar.  Now, if you’re not from the tropics, the last sentence probably doesn’t get you all excited but trust me the starfish there were big and beautiful.  I was able to capture a photo of it.

Tropical Starfish

We had been talking about horseback riding on the beach for a long time, especially since J loves horses and has been riding for years.  This opportunity arose and we did not want to pass it up.  Neither should you.

LiFE is NOW…  ~ don’t you want to say “I did it”?

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Swim with the Dolphins

The Bahamas.  Ah, the mere hint of the word conjures days of unending sun, sand and boat drinks.  True; but you’re not travelling with us!  We generally bring record breaking weather with us wherever we go.  That’s not to say we bring the “best” weather, just record breaking.  San Diego – 75 degrees year round, dry, not humid, sunshine and no rain, Ha.  Aruba – constant breezes, dry, warm sunshine and Caribbean waters, Ha again.  San Diego was cool, damp, rainy and rarely any sun (we had to stay another day just to get to the beach).  Aruba; it felt like downtown Boston in the middle of August.  Humid, stifling, no breeze.  The locals were saying that in all their lives they’ve never experienced weather like that.  Well, the Bahamas was no different.  It was cool and sometimes downright cold!  Windy, rainy and a high wind storm even blew in one afternoon.

Gale force winds closed the beaches. Notice the palm trees blowing in the wind.

Like I said, traveling with us is an experience in and of itself.

I tell you this because there was nothing that was going to stop us from Swimming with the Dolphins.  Yes, it was cold – but we had wetsuits.  Sure it was cloudy – but we have photoshop.  As long as the dolphins were swimming, so were we.  And glad we did.  What a fantastic experience.  We ended up taking a boat ride from our hotel through the canals that line the coast of Freeport and over to the site.

The company we used was called Unexso and it was situated right in the harbor at Freeport. It was also very close to our hotel the Pelican Bay Hotel at Lucaya as well as the marketplace where there were shops, restaurants and bars.  The staff at both Unexso and Pelican Bay were friendly and helpful.  Our room at the Pelican Bay overlooked part of the harbor and also allowed us to catch the sunsets in the evening.  Each morning they would deliver bread and a newsletter through a two-way cubby in the door to our room.  Pretty cool.

Door Cubby @ Pelican Bay, Bahamas

Once we were in the water with the dolphins we got the opportunity to swim with them, call and command them and they would perform tasks and tricks based on what we indicated in our signs.

Bella swimming with dolphin

J getting to dance with a dolphin

Me swimming with dolphin

In the end we got the chance to hug and ultimately kiss them.  One recommendation I would make is that the trainers give the dolphins some breath mints.  Getting up close and personal was fantastic but the fish gargle they use makes you not want to linger.  Or, at least only long enough to get a photo.  Here we are getting our kisses from our dolphin friends.

Kisses for Bella

Kisses for J

Kisses for Me

After swimming in the water with the dolphins and interacting with them I can only say that if you are anywhere near where they offer dolphin experiences like this “make it happen”!  What an amazing feeling to be swimming next to these guys. They are gentle, fun and incredibly intelligent.  Feel their skin, watch them look at you; and they always seem to have a smile on their face.  You will walk away with a better understanding of life in general.

In the end we did get some sun and were able to soak up some much needed warmth at the beach; as well as, crossing another item off the Bucket List and something J has always wanted to do – Horseback Riding on the Beach.  We made sure to soak up as much LiFE as we could regardless of the weather.

The sun finally showed up!

As you know, with the sun comes sunsets.  Sunsets truly are one of best things the universe has to offer; they command your attention.  They force you to stop in your tracks, focus on them and forget your worries while compelling you to simply appreciate NOW.  Not too many things can do the same.

Bahama Sunset

We hope you take the initiative to book your swim with the dolphins and cross it off your Bucket List!  Then you can say “I did it”.

LiFE is NOW…   –   Make it Happen

 

 

 

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‘Bucket List Updates’ Begins

It begins.  Time to practice what we preach.  The Bucket List is about to become a To-Do List.  LiFE is NOW…® will begin eating away at an ever changing Bucket List.  I say ‘ever changing’ because 1. once we start I’m certain there will be other things that will need to be added to the list and 2. we hope you send us ideas as to what we should attempt, do or try.  It’s all about taking the initiative, making the time and making it happen.  When it’s all said and done you can say “I did it”, walk away with memories and the satisfaction of taking that first step and accomplishing something.  These are our dreams.  We cannot let them wither away with us.  We must engage them.  Then pass on our experience to others.

Help us work our way through LiFE’s Bucket List together by sending in your photos, videos and stories for us to post on our site.  You’ll get the satisfaction of finishing a Bucket List item, making memories as well as seeing your story on our site.  We can’t wait.  Really…we can’t wait – LiFE is NOW…®

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