Blog posts of '2015' 'June'

The Personal Sherpa - Friday, June 26, 2015

For some unknown reason, I was fortunate to have enjoyed the past 15 years with Susan as my best friend, soul mate, and wife. Looking back I can best describe my primary purpose in her life as her “Sherpa.” I can say this with total confidence, as this is how she described my existence in her life to all who would listen. And let me be totally clear, I relished my position. As most know, a Sherpa is the guide who totes a mountain climber’s personal belongings up the tallest and most dangerous of peaks in the Himalayas. This begs the question, who has accomplished the most, climber or Sherpa?

However, my responsibilities as Susan’s personal Sherpa were not fraught with hair-raising risk. My role could be better defined as her valet, fishing and hunting guide. More like “Driving Miss Daisy,” but in this case more like Driving Miss Aniston, as in Jennifer Aniston. What a beautiful and elegant lady she was, Susan.
As our friends know, I love the outdoors; hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and most of all fly-fishing. Susan adopted my habits, or perhaps I assisted in waking her latent desires. Regardless, I had a beautiful partner to venture into the wilds with and there was a definite benefit to having my female companion along side of me on these remote excursions ------- She could cook! And what a fabulous cook she was. I taught Susan the art of hunting. Quail and dove hunting, perhaps the easiest to overcome the queasiness of actually killing something. After all, anything that hatches from an egg is fair game, correct? Her decision to pursue the four-legged variety of game required serious preparation, mostly mental. She dutifully practiced her shooting skills with her rifle, and as instructed, determined beforehand if she had the will to harvest her goal, a mature bull elk. We began her quest with a warm-up hunt in West Texas hunting pronghorn antelope. Typical of Susan, her preparation was complete and flawless, dropping one with a single shot on the hunt’s first day. The animal never suffered as her shot was true to the mark and an instantaneous kill. She then dusted off her antelope recipes to enjoy the benefits of the hunt. Come on now, everybody has antelope recipes, right?
At this point, I was convinced Susan was ready to pursue her bull elk, a much larger target and a much more physically demanding hunt. Elk like living in the highest and craggiest mountains in Idaho and Colorado. This requires hiking for miles up and down steep slopes at elevations exceeding 10,000 feet. Not for the faint of heart or anyone not in excellent physical condition, but Susan was habitually fit so she qualified. This is where the Sherpa story begins. We travel to central Colorado to hunt in the Wet Mountains just west of Pueblo. The morning of the first day of the hunt begins with Susan packing, or rather over-packing  her backpack. In an attempt not to interrupt her thoughts of the daunting challenge in front of her, I did not ask why she considered three books (cooking variety), a dozen or so power bars, 6 gallons of water, 2 sweaters, an extra pair of boots and 5 apples were required on a morning hunt that would at most last three hours. So, quietly I shouldered her nearly 30-pound pack and off we went with our guide Allen. “Oh sweetie, would you mind carrying my rifle too?” Sure, why not, I had nothing better to do.
That afternoon Susan bagged her elk. He was a magnificent and mature fellow with antlers large enough to register in the famous Boone and Crocket, a list of animals reserved for only the grandest and largest of specimens. Typical Susan, with her determination and preparation, she accomplished what most hunters never experience, on her first day of hunting. And oh yes, she had many elk recipes.
Susan retired from hunting after bagging her elk and concentrated on her fly-fishing skills. She’d sit patiently on the bank of the Frying Pan River entertaining our three dogs as I fished our favorite pool. Curious as to why she was not wading the river, it became apparent to me, she preferred fishing with me by her side, which sounds very romantic. However, it was to her liking because it was much easier for me to net her fish, take the fly out of said fishes’ mouth, re-tie her fly on hair thin fly line and direct her next cast to a fish I saw rising while finishing these tasks. Why would she want to soil her new manicure touching those squirming slippery devils? Better suited for Mr. Sherpa. Oh yes, my enviable task of ‘Guiding Miss Susan’.
I miss those warm sunny days shared with Susan on the Pan, hiking with our dogs, or being quiet and doing nothing at all. I am so grateful to have shared in her understated elegance and love, and to learn through observance how to live by the Golden Rule. Her infectious smile warmed the hearts of many and made their lives better for knowing her. And as my job of Sherpa turned into carrying the same hunting backpack through the maze of hallways of M.D. Anderson, I watched this remarkable lady face her biggest and most daunting challenge with grace and caring for all those with similar needs. Cancer shortened this joyous relationship for some unknown reason. Perhaps to initiate this Foundation to financially support innovative research for a future cure or early diagnosis. Susan knew her body, took care of herself, but never sensed anything wrong until it proved too late. Through her namesake Foundation, we are committed to carry on Susan’s legacy and to help others understand the wickedness of this disease. Our goal (to be a Sherpa of sorts) is for everyone to know the symptoms and questions to ask doctors, so that someday soon the detour on the path of life forced onto Susan will be barricaded forever.
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