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Cancer You Can’t Change, But Life You Can.

By Luca Karjalainen

One evening, I was out for a run with a friend during our compulsory military service, when I suddenly felt lightheaded. I turned to him to speak, then everything went black. I woke up in the ambulance on the way to hospital with a hazy memory and a bloody face. After blood tests, an epilepsy test, fitness tests, and an MRI, they found a 6.6cm glioma brain tumour. The topic of cancer can be notoriously scary and often kept in the shadows. I’m an optimist and my reaction were that of an infant believing deep down their father would return home from war, and therefore, not think about the consequences. I remember thinking “Okay, I know the hospital will do the best they can, and I’ll be back to normal in no time”. “I’m lucky to be in an advanced country with medical experts who dedicate their lives to saving people, and medicine is always advancing”. I left the army and underwent a 12-hour awake operation a month later. It was a success, in which they chose against chemo or radiation and would let time tell with check-ups every 6 months. Recovery was slow at first. My body needed time to heal, and I slept 14+ hours a day for weeks. Movement was also slow. I had a chronic headache that subsided over several months and it took about 6 weeks post-op to regain the strength to see friends over a coffee. Roughly 5 months later, I felt more recovered. Fast forward 6 years. I had completed a university degree in New Zealand, lived a year in Norway, and another 6 months in France. Through friends and inspirational people, I had discovered the world of rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering and trail running. I have experienced life through multipitches in steep glaciated valleys, hanging icicles in caves and traversed ridges on alpine expeditions with no signs of a human presence. So, when I got my call at the end of 2021 about tumour regrowth, I said bring it on because I’ve got something to get back to. I had my second operation in 2022, and this time it followed with 30 rounds of radiotherapy and another 6 months of chemo. The treatment for my grade 2 tumour was successful in stopping the growth for the time being, however, it could return in a more malignant form over the coming years or decades. It is placed in a vulnerable location where removing its entirety in an operation would resolve in losing mobility to half the body. To remain strong and to try and inspire others that suffer from mental or physical difficulties, I ran a charity fundraiser for cancer research through climbing 10 000 metres during my treatment. By October, 9 months after the second operation, everything had been completed and I returned to 6-month check-ups. Three months after my second speed bump in life, I started a master’s degree and trying my hardest climbing project to date. This time, I have experienced mild lasting effects from the radiation in the form of “chemo-brain”. I can have momentary difficulties with concentration and memory of the past, though it usually subsides over a couple minutes. The only time I don’t EVER have this foggy state is when I am fully in the moment of climbing, exercising and doing activities worth living for. It is the state I want to be in for the rest of my life, and these mild side effects are nothing while there are adventures to be had. My passion to fight for the good in life and pursue my lifelong goals of freeing El Cap and going on remote big wall expeditions also comes from sharing the experiences with others. When I discovered CAC recently, I felt and feel so humbled in the presence of everyone that is part of this community, and to each that shares their story. Everyone has their own demons to fight, and climbing has been my impenetrable shield. I hope you all have or will find yours too. Thank you for reading my story and hit me up if an adventure is calling. 🙂

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Most people have been affected by cancer in one way or another. Whether it’s through a family or friend, or even a personal battle. Share your story here and let others know they’re not alone in the climb against cancer.


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