Wrestling With My Adventurous Spirit

Over the Fourth of July, I vacationed with my wife and a couple friends in Glenwood Springs. It was my first time that far west on I-70 in Colorado and one of the most famous hikes in the whole state is just outside that quaint little town: Hanging Lake.

Before my back injury three and a half years ago, I was an avid hiker. My best friend, Stacy and I went out almost every weekend on an 8-10 mile hike. We loved the challenge of exploring new trails and training for our ultimate goal, which was hiking Pikes Peak. 102_1233_0040aWe planned, trained, and prepared, and we finally achieved our goal late that summer. Then we slowed down and took a bit of a break for awhile. And life, as it so often does, started to get in the way. As much as I loved escaping to the mountains, my real life with its struggles between faith and sexuality were proving to be hard enough. I got to the point where I didn’t want to work so hard at everything I did. I wanted something that I could just enjoy, without it being hard. I needed some reprieve. Stacy’s unending support led us to choosing some easier trails, and though we didn’t go out as often, when we did, it was on a trail that we enjoyed without struggle. In fact, it was on one of those very trails that Stacy and I discussed how I was going to come out to my family.

But then more life happened: Stacy moved out of state, I moved to Denver after coming out, and hiking ended up on the back burner for a time while I struggled just to survive everyday life. Not long after that, my back injury followed and hiking was ruled out almost completely.

It’s now been three and a half years since my back injury and in all honesty, I’ve managed about one good hike a year. Pathetic for an adventurous soul like me. But it’s been all my physical body and crazy schedule could manage, though my soul has desperately longed for more.

I’m a bucket list girl, an adventure girl, a throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-live-life-to-the-fullest girl. I don’t like watching from the sidelines, and I don’t like that my pain has caused me to be more cautious, more fearful, and less prone to adventure. Nor have I liked accepting the fact that certain things on my bucket list are things I may now never be able to do. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially since I’m still haven’t even yet hit 33.

So when I got to Glenwood and my friends wanted to hike Hanging Lake, my heart and mind split and divided themselves in opposite directions. My heart, which still longs for adventure and beauty said, download“Yes! This is a Bucket List moment! I definitely want to do this!” My head, which now filters everything through a lens of pain management, was, I’ll admit it…scared. Laying in bed the night before we planned to hike the trail, I thought about the trail stats that claimed to climb over 1,000 feet of elevation in just one mile. As a hiker, I knew what that meant. It meant it was hard. It meant it was nothing but up. It meant my body would hate me. I admit the more I thought about it (and about the setbacks I’ve had because of other similar choices/experiences over the last couple of years), the more I began to work myself into a tizzy. “What if I can’t make it?” “What if I hold everyone else back?” “What if I have a setback that takes days or even weeks to recover from?” Fear rose up inside me. I even started coming up with excuses of why I shouldn’t go and why everyone else should just do it without me.

But then, with everything I could muster, I began to reason myself down from a state of panic in the dark and quiet bedroom that night. If you know me, you know that not making it to the top is pretty much not an option. Once I’ve started, by golly, I’m going to make it to the top! But as I lay there, I told myself that I would take it slow. I told myself I didn’t mind if I had to send the others ahead. I told myself I would just do my best. Because the truth is, I want to continue to live a beautiful, exciting, adventurous life regardless of my chronic pain. I don’t want to just sit by and watch others live life around me. Yes, I need to be smart. And yes, there are some things (right now, still many things) that I just have to say “no” to. But I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to keep pushing myself and working at getting better. I’m going to keep facing my fears, because I want to truly live.

Upon returning from Glenwood last week, I pulled my Bucket List up on my computer to check in and see where I was at. I’d been putting it off because I’ve been discouraged at how many of things I can’t do and know I maybe never will again. But as I read down each line on the list of over 200 items, what I found instead was that I had actually checked several of them off. Yes, there are a few that I may never get to experience, but there are still so many that I can. And realizing that lit a candle of hope in my spirit where discouragement has been sitting.

Oh, and if you’re wondering? I did make it to the top of Hanging Lake. One of my friends, at the very bottom of the trailhead pulled a sturdy stick from the stream for me to use as a hiking stick, and everyone was more than gracious and patient with my pace. I spent most of the next day in bed, but with lots of TLC, I recovered quite nicely and was overall proud of how well my body did.


We had a great time. We made it. And we got the Bucket List check! So the question for you this week is:

What fear do you need to face?maxresdefaultWhat’s on your Bucket List?

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

The Unexpected People Who Change Your Life


I’m amazed at how people can subtly change our life, sometimes without us even knowing it. This past week, because of an unexpected situation, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the people that have changed my life.

Some of you know that I deal with chronic pain and undergo a somewhat intensive treatment on a regular basis. Last week, I walked into my doctor’s office with my wife and my service dog, Half Pint ready for another treatment. The three of us always go to my treatments together and Half Pint has become so well loved by the staff that they claim her as their office mascot. It’s one of Half Pint’s favorite places to accompany me and she gets excited every time I tell her that’s where we’re going. And last week was no exception. We all walked in with smiles.#34 Caption- Half Pint becomes a service dog

But the climate in the office was different that day. The staff, usually bubbly and excited to see us (especially Half Pint), were not their smiley selves. Following one of the medical staff back into the treatment room, I said,

“How are you today?”

“Ok,” she responded. “Just sad, you know,” as if I was supposed to know what she was talking about. But I didn’t.

“Why sad?” I asked, beginning to clue in to the fact that I was missing something.

“Didn’t you get the letter?”

What letter?” I said, starting to feel nervous.

“Dr. Chris is retiring at the end of the month.”

For a moment, my world stopped. She explained that, due to complications with his own chronic pain, he was retiring in hopes of avoiding extensive surgery. Instant tears formed in my eyes. I was totally caught off guard.

Waiting for Dr. Chris to enter the room, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. The shock I felt was similar to when you receive the news that a family member was in a serious car accident, or your best friend was diagnosed with cancer. Retirement is supposed to be a happy, celebratory time. But it was clear that nobody was excited about this unexpected news. It was even reflected on Dr. Chris’ face when he walked in the room. This was not planned. This was sudden, and this was hard. I fought tears throughout the entire appointment. (That will teach me to check my mail!)

Making it through my treatment, I barely got it to the car before I fell apart. I cried the rest of the night.

Spending the next several days in bed (as I always do following this treatment), it gave me time to analyze the situation. I didn’t expect the news of my doctor retiring to have such a strong affect on me. But it did, and I struggled to sleep for days afterward. My heart was heavy for him and the extent of the pain he was battling, for his family and the transition this meant for all of them, and for me and what this meant for the future of my own treatment and recovery.

What I realized in those heavy, restless nights was that Dr. Chris had become more than just my doctor. Seeing him every few weeks for the last two and a half years, he had taken me from being bed-ridden, to being functional and mobile again. When other doctor’s doubted my pain because they couldn’t find evidence of it on a screening test, Dr. Chris believed me. He knew instantly what was wrong and gently, with love, care, and compassion guided me towards healing.

When I experienced an unexpected setback this last summer, he  looked me in the eye and made me promise not to get discouraged, because he knew I was going to get better. It was like having a D.O. and a built in therapist all rolled into one. He joked around and teased me to keep the pain of what I was going through light-hearted. And he always asked about my personal life, knowing the level of stress I was under often dictated the extent to which I continued (or didn’t continue) to heal. As time went on, he often ended our appointment with a hug rather than a handshake. He went above and beyond his call of duty as a doctor and I never doubted that he truly cared.

Reflecting on all that this past weekend made me realize, Dr. Chris and his office staff have become more like family than simply the medical office that I visit ever few weeks. I’ve trusted Dr. Chris. I’ve felt safe under his medical care. And I’ve relied on his wisdom and encouragement to lead me towards further recovery and mobility.

It’s clear that I did not see this coming. In fact, I thought we would move away from Colorado long before Dr. Chris would retire, and frequently told my wife that if we did, I would still come back to Denver for treatments and follow-ups with Dr. Chris as needed. He’s been the only one I’ve trusted with my medical care after many misguided attempts at other facilities.

So my life is about to change to a degree. And it’s with great sadness that I move forward and attempt to establish my care with another physician. This has made me acutely aware of the importance of never taking people in your life for granted. You never know when your life or their’s is going to change.unexpected_love-374194

So this week, I urge you to consider:

Who’s in your life right now that, whether you’ve been aware of it or not, is changing your life?

Do you take them for granted?

Who’s life are you influencing and how can you encourage them this week?

I encourage you to take inventory of your life and those who, in either the foreground or background, are doing things to change your life for the better. Make a special point to thank them this week.

I will have my final appointment with Dr. Chris this coming Tuesday. I will do my best not to cry, and I will be bringing him a home-made apple pie (which I hear is his favorite) as way to say thank you, and “coping” cookies for the staff as they face the big transition ahead.

Dr. Chris–thank you. You’ve saved and changed my life. I will miss you deeply.