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Walking While "ill"

Walking While "ill"

Postby Sgurr » Thu Dec 09, 2021 1:28 pm

Date walked: 09/12/2021

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I am posting this to encourage others who have had a rubbish diagnosis, who might feel that their hill-walking career has ended, and there is nothing more to do. As Roger said when we climbed the Auch Five for my 70th birthday in 2009 “All the age cards just said ‘Put your feet up’ well, we’re not having any of that, are we?”
It was mid spring 2011 that R went to the GP and came back having had two potentially life threatening conditions flagged up. He had gone to see if his getting up at all times of the night could be attributed to prostate cancer (the previous GP had advocated a programme of watchful waiting), and been told he needed a consultant’s appointment, but meanwhile he should be wired up to see if the irregular pulse the GP had detected was a persistent feature. It was, so he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and therefore in danger of strokes and put on warfarin, a blood thinner.
Our first expedition after this was to Beinn nan Lus and Meall Garbh. This involved cycling with the bikes made heavier with camping packs, and Roger lost control of the bike and slammed into a rock about a mile out.
The blood thinner meant that he stood there streaming with blood while I argued that we should get back to a hospital, and he insisted it MUST stop soon. It was like walking with the Macbeths, but it stopped eventually. After that he eventually managed to avoid brambles, and barbed wire, but not before some rather alarming incidents.
Meanwhile, on the other (cancer) front, every test he took steered him towards the bad rather than the good outcome. It could be benign, or cancerous. It was cancerous. It could be slow growing or fast, it was fast. Radiation was prescribed, but before that, a hormone to shrink the tumour over the summer. Despite feeling vaguely nauseous he managed the hills on the Uists and around forty other hills over the summer including the distant Meith Beinn…..we weren’t up to including An Stac,
Below, struggling with Meith Beinn
Then the radiation started. This meant going to Edinburgh every week day for six weeks. He refused my offer of chauffeuring, and caught the train, walking every day from Haymarket to the Western General to keep fit. Once he had been irradiated, he made first for one of Edinburgh’s seven hills, later for an art gallery, or a museum. Even if it made him feel tired, he didn’t want to waste time. On the Fridays I would pick him up from the Western General, and we would go to a place with small hills over the weekend. The Dales provided us with some non-energetic Marilyns.

One weekday I struck out by myself to climb Creag Mhor, and at the end met RCFC and Davelaid from Scottishhills.com who had been climbing a nearby Munro…I couldn’t prevent myself bursting into tears on them.
At the Western General Roger hated the depressing atmosphere in the waiting room. He isn’t usually the sort to initiate conversations with strangers, but reckoned they were all in the same boat, and managed to get some of them chatting, and even joking. He was touched on his last day when he got up to leave, and they all stood up and cheered him out. “Did they do that with everyone?” “No, only me!”
I think it was maybe a good for our peace of mind that we relied on the medics and didn’t go checking the internet. After his treatment, R had a really low PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) and we didn’t worry overly when it started to rise, as it was nowhere near what it had been before treatment. However, we later learned that any reading above zero was bad news, and showed that the cancer was still there. His dodgy right knee was what worried him, but once he realised his life might be limited, he didn’t want to sacrifice a year on an operation and rehab, especially when a percentage to have the op. was unhappy afterwards, so the knee gained a fearsome support, and he managed to hobble up most things, though he passed on trying to do the seven Marilyns in Fife with me, as he knew he would be timed out.
We had both finished the Corbetts before he was diagnosed, and had been running the Grahams more or less in tandem, with only some stragglers to complete. Unfortunately, as usual, we had left some of the hardest to the end and these included
An Cruachan,

Creag Mhor and Beinn Armine (he hated camping as even then his back hurt if it had to fold itself into a tent)
"One day," said R, "Do you think we might get to actually enjoy camping rather than regarding it as a means to an end?" On the evidence below, there was never a chance.
Croit Bheinn and Beinn Gaire: everyone who has done these knows that you either have to re-climb Beinn Gaire or take a problematic route round it. In the hotel next day a man approached R and asked “How is your wife this morning sir?” “Considering she climbed over three hills yesterday, not bad.” The man looked astonished. “She was well enough to leave her bed then?” It turned out that he was a doctor paying a return visit to a sick guest. At that stage we had little need of doctors.
Climbing up Beinn Gaire AGAIN
Slat Bheinn,
Meal nan Euan ,

An Stac,

Groban and Beinn Beag

and then, after his compleation in Jura, Suilven to help me out.
It was still only a year from his diagnosis, and nobody could claim that his illness was affecting him. He had walked very slightly slower than me since getting altitude sickness on Kalapathar overlooking Everest base-camp, and his knee, kicked to pieces playing football until he was 50 didn’t help. Then, on a trip to Wales, he banged his leg on a trip to Moel Hebog. He refused to do anything about it until the end of the holiday, we just walked very slowly with a friend who had joined us after a conference. His GP said “I’ll lance it for you, no, on second thoughts, I’ll send you across to A & E.” Half an hour later we had a phone call instructing us on no account to go to A & E. Lancing it would have lead to bleeding complications with the Warfarin he was on. …or even death. It took a month or so to clear up
The PSA kept rising slowly and around 2017 one of the ever changing troop of consultants made him understand that his condition was fatal. Up until then they had always said “You’ll die of something else.” And he always joked “Damn, I forgot to ask them what else.” Two bouts of pneumonia (that we put down to the poor lungs after altitude sickness)had failed to carry him off.
We pressed on doing Marilyns and the odd Wainwright. Doing many Marilyns at a time in a broad sweep stopped being an option, it was just too tiring, and we had to return again and again to clear up a section. In Pairc whereas others could (and did…step forward Carole Engel) Caiteshal, Cipeagil Beag, Beinn Mhor, Guainemol, Feirihisval and Beinn Breac in a single trip, our decreasing stamina lead to us doing every one singly.
We thought we had finished all the Marilyns barring the sea stacks off St. Kilda in 2018 on Usinis. The only hill list we have ever completed jointly.
Wainwrights seemed relatively easy after stumbling through the untracked Pairc. Look, PATHS! Look PEOPLE! All 2018 and 2019 we would spend a week a month in the Lake District sometimes able to combine hills in the long days, but mostly slowly picking off one at a time.
By 2019 it was apparent that R was getting much slower, for whatever reason. To slow down prostate cancer, you have to cut off or at least reduce the supply of testosterone, and to do this they had been giving him larger doses of blockers followed by an operation. Testosterone is what keeps blokes going, so he had to fall back on will power.
Hilary Neilson had booked Carnmore Lodge at the foot of A’Mhaigdhean for a party of eight and had invited us. We managed to climb it just after my 80th birthday. It took us ten hours of slow plodding, but we made it. I got all the plaudits being 80 and female, but he should have got more, even though he was only 79: the cancer, the knee and the warfarin combining to attempt to prevent him walking
The revelation that Beinn Dearg near Cape Wrath had been resurveyed as a Marilyn was a blow. We planned to catch the tourist bus one day, camp and do the hill at our leisure, and return the next. The weather had other ideas and torrential rain and storms were forecast for Day 2, so even if we were prepared to sit it out, there would be no tourists for the bus to take. So on Day 1, we caught the tourist bus to the lighthouse and hoped to get across the moor and back by 3 pm. This is where we had got by half time when we told the driver we would turn round. Look carefully, and you can see him below
I raced back down the hill and tried to persuade R to turn back, but he refused. After we had got back safely across the burn and the fence, I ran back across the moor (or as near running I could) arriving at 3.50 pm. to find Stuart, the bus driver was taking his third party of the day to the light- house, and would collect us on his return. R staggered in at 5. Stuart wasn’t to know he would get a third party, but knowing we had until 6 p.m. would have made for a far pleasanter day.
One visit to the Lake District ended with us turning back, because the day just wasn’t long enough, and let’s face it, R was done in. Glaramara was a pleasant hill, but not one we wanted to look back on as our last.
As it turned out, it was our last Lake District Hill.
Towards the end of 2019 we joined the Scottishhills Christmas party at the end of November at The Corran. The others seemed set for bigger things, but we reckoned that Ben Hiant was our favourite Marilyn in driving distance, so we set off for that. It was a good choice, the day was clear and crisp and views to Skye Rum and Eigg in one direction, Mull in another and across to the Ben and environs couldn’t be matched.
Then came 2020 and Covid. We wanted to extend our range, having done almost all the walks we could do from our front door, and set out on our bikes. R hit a bollard and broke an arm and a leg, and worse still, when discharged into our local hospital caught Covid. I sat at the end of phone wondering whether to hope this would be what might carry him off….it might be less painful than a slow decline with the pain of cancer.
A BBC Producer got me to record a bit about Life on Lockdown(20 mins 20 secs in)

But surely there were hills he might yet enjoy? And as it turned out there were. He was discharged at the end of April, having spent a whole month in hospital, and set to doing rehab on his broken hip. Except for West Lomond, he managed each of the Fife Marilyns via the easiest possible routes, https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=97923
Below, on Cairnie Hill
He acted as chauffeur when I did them all in a day
In November 2020 we climbed Lumbennie Hill, a first for him, though I had climbed it before. It reminded us of our old pioneering days with the Marilyns
That was the final hill for him. Then came walks around the local park, walks to the light-house while I did St. Monans to Elie along the coastal path.

On May 10th 2021 we filled in a form for a blue disabled badge for the car. One of the questions was “How long does it take you to walk across a tennis court, 24 metres?” We measured out 24 m inside our house and it took him 1 minute 23 seconds. Getting the badge is supposed to take a month, but the help phone line said it would take twelve weeks. It finally arrived at eleven weeks.
When the consultant still claimed that the final drug she gave him might yet kick in and give him a bit more time, he walked his 75 year old sister “down the aisle” to marry her partner of 35 years.
After Covid we had bought a Chinese exercise bike from the internet. He had destroyed it within a week, the plastic falling to pieces. After much hassling, we got a full refund and invested it in a tank like gym bike. The unfortunate owner was distancing them in his new gym. Unfortunately he had only taken over the gym seven months previously so could get nothing from the government. He looked as if he was a regular there himself with large enough biceps to carry it up to the top floor. R used to sit looking out at the sea from the window, but the virtual cycling distance was now declining down from 10 k eventually to 1 k, but it was better than trying to walk with a painful back. It didn’t help that the new drug hadn’t helped and he was told all that they could offer him was palliative care. Life became a fight with the practice to put the morphine based drugs on his regular list of medication so we could get them when he needed and not have to hope that a doctor might call back, and then a tussle to get a walk-in shower. Our elderly house looked as if it would only accommodate a step-up shower, so I had to send photos to the boss and extend the fitting time by a day to get a proper job done, meanwhile some things that looked as if it might make life easier took an age to come: a chair that would just tip him out to nearly standing position apparently had to be manufactured to order. I suspected they were sending away to China for it, and after the bike experience looked for its arrival with apprehension. Both our computers flash up images of walks long ago, and given I would rush out in a minute to repeat them was surprised to realise how resigned R had come. When the plumbers who did the shower had to evict his boots to get at the pipes, he said they might as well be given away, only calling for me to retrieve his light weight ones in a rare moment of hope. Eventually dragging himself upstairs was becoming too much, and we booked in a stair-lift firm. The salesman dazzled us with his technology. Having put black and white markers on each stair, he fed the photos into the computer and a technical drawing emerged of a stick man going up and down stairs on the outlines of a lift. Magic. The day before it arrived he likened his ascent of the stairs to bed to climbing Kalapathar.
Meanwhile R was still trying to finish a book. Up until now his professional career had included articles on various subjects, but he wanted to leave behind something more substantial. Former students who had nagged him for years to bring out a book became immensely co-operative, two who had become professors coming and spending a day at a time discussing it, and then taking over all the admin. I would have to leap out of my chair when I heard him wrangling with the computer. Once again convinced he had lost everything. Then the final corrections became too much and the ever helpful ex-students said that of course they could do them too.
The evening before he died he realised that he’d hardly had time to dip into the 1033 High Hills of Britain by Alan Dawson, as he had been too busy writing his own book., and asked me to read a chapter. I picked the one on Creag Meagaidh as he had climbed it once as a young man, once with me and once with his American colleague. “Ah yes,” he said, obviously following every step in his mind, “John and I came at it from the west.”
He only spent two whole days without getting up and looking forward to bird-watching from the front window. I think he died as much from exhaustion as from the cancer, luckily not having to go down the route of constant agonising pain or being on a morphine driver that his outspoken GP had outlined as the next eventuality. He gave life his best shot.

EDIT. (14.12.2021)Apart from the previous GP putting R on "watchful waiting", current at the time, we could not have asked better from the NHS. Around 2016 R asked one of the nurses what would have happened if he hadn't had treatment, and she said "You'd be dead by now." They managed to keep R active almost to the end. In the last six months the GP monitored him regularly by phone, and although we only used them to ask questions, the palliative care team were at the end of a phone, and we had a "just in case" box in the house in case R could no longer take morphine orally. The OT came to the house and left several aids that were invaluable. A friend who had very different experiences at the end with her husband told me we were "lucky" it was cancer as they had end-of-life "pathways" all worked out.
Last edited by Sgurr on Wed Jan 05, 2022 7:23 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby Phil the Hill » Thu Dec 09, 2021 2:03 pm

Great and very moving report. I've enjoyed your walk reports over the years with Realsquiz and am very sorry for your loss. I'm now 62 and hope I manage to keep going as long as the two of you.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby Steve B » Thu Dec 09, 2021 2:08 pm

That must have taken some writing. Tough enough to read with the expectation of the ending to come.
I have enjoyed your reports of the exploits of you both on this and another site. You and he have certainly had a life, and hopefully a lot more to come for you.
Not sure what words can help but there is some legacy he leaves behind and more for you to add to.
Take care.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby nigheandonn » Thu Dec 09, 2021 3:27 pm

What a wonderful time you two have had together. I'm so sorry to hear it's over.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby Jaywizz » Thu Dec 09, 2021 3:56 pm

So sad to read of your loss. I feel it is our loss too. What a wonderful tribute you have posted, so many happy photos and experiences. Thank you for sharing the whole story - part of your combined legacy must be the inspiration you give to so many more.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby rockhopper » Thu Dec 09, 2021 4:19 pm

A very fitting tribute - thank you for posting. Both of you, as well as your reports, have been so inspirational over the years and I'd never realised just what you were both going through. A real legend - you'll have so many great memories on which to look back.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby BlackPanther » Thu Dec 09, 2021 5:08 pm

Very moving tribute. Thank you for writing it up. It couldn't have been easy.
Jaywizz wrote:part of your combined legacy must be the inspiration you give to so many more.

My thoughts exactly. Many of your reports have been (and will be in the future) very helpful for me and Kevin, especially those on lower, less popular hills.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby Sunset tripper » Thu Dec 09, 2021 5:24 pm

A great tribute to Roger and inspiration for everyone.
What great adventures you had together, enjoyed by many on WH and Scottish hills.
Sorry for your loss - all the best and take care.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby kaye.cantlay » Thu Dec 09, 2021 6:53 pm

Thank you Sgurr.
I'm sobbing reading this as I already know the end but don't want it to come.
It's all a bit too close to home, though we are probably around 7 years behind.
I'm so very sorry for your loss, but what a life you have had together, loving life in whatever way was still possible together until the bitter end.
I love your account and your beautiful photos.
Sending love.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby RiverSong » Thu Dec 09, 2021 7:24 pm

I’m so sorry to hear about your husband. He was quite a guy and I just love his wonderful spirit and the way he continued to get out there in spite of his medical problems.
Love to you, I hope you continue to walk the hills and they bring you solace 💐
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Dec 09, 2021 8:59 pm

So sorry to hear of the end of Roger's part of the story. Thank you for a very moving account of an astonishing story of fortitude, and the will to grasp and enjoy every moment possible.

An inspiration to us all, both of you. "He gave life his best shot" - boy, didn't he just.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby denfinella » Thu Dec 09, 2021 11:50 pm

An absolutely beautiful and very moving tribute, Sgurr. We've never met, but I've always enjoyed reading about you and your husband's trips (and other exploits, such as the bollard incident!). You are both an inspiration.

Thank you.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby past my sell by date » Thu Dec 09, 2021 11:56 pm

Oh wow! I want to say something but I don't know what.
Coming up this month to the "big eight" I'm reminded of Scott's magic lines from the Lay of the Last Minstrel:-

"Still as I view each well known scene
Think what is now and what hath been
Seems as, to me, of all bereft,
Sole friends, thy woods and streams are left;
And thus I love them better still,
Even in extremity of ill.
By Yarrow's banks still let me stray,
Though none should guide my feeble way;
Still feel the breeze down Ettrick break
Although it chill my withered cheek;
Still lay my head by Teviot stone
Though there, forgotten and alone,
The bard may draw his parting groan."

The joy of being in the hills continues right to the end.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby gammy leg walker » Fri Dec 10, 2021 6:51 am

You and Roger have been a inspiration on here for many years, I've always looked forward to reading your TRs and marveling at the sheer will you both had to keep going no matter how many set backs got in the way. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you and all your family and friends GLW.
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Re: Walking While "ill"

Postby jmarkb » Fri Dec 10, 2021 1:03 pm

That's a wonderful and heartfelt tribute. I'm sure you will be missing him terribly, but I hope you can have some comfort from the knowledge that it was a life well lived, even in the face of failing health, and from the memories of all the wonderful adventures you had together.
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