Recalled to Life


The phrase “recalled to life” rang true over the past two weeks, as I returned to some of my favorite activities. Save for the past year, climbing steep rock spires and schussing down 45 degree slopes has been my normal.

“Recalled to life” comes from the novel A Tale of Two Cities; the suggestion of a new chance at life is an apt description of not just my experience lately, but the bigger picture of my life as well. This resurrection started when Elizabeth and Pippa and I headed out to Colorado for spring break.

While in Longmont, my friend, Jon, asked me if I wanted to go rock climbing. A little hesitant at first, I agreed. I had thought about perhaps climbing this spring or summer, but sometimes it takes a mental push to tie yourself back into a thin rope, force your feet into tight shoes and defy gravity by hanging on a cliff once again. I think going with a “safe” friend was a must—not just one with good climbing skills, but a proven friend I don’t need to impress, especially after what I’ve been through.

We headed to a familiar crag in Boulder Canyon. Starting slow on a beginner route, I kept readjusting my fingers on the thin rock holds, straining to stand on my toes on the small features. My feet and hands are numb in spots, the result of grueling treatment, so in a way I felt like I was relearning to trust them. Fortunately, this route included a lot of big holds, so precision wasn’t quite so critical.

After that shaky start, I surprised myself by ascending a 5-9, as well as another 5-8 (intermediate routes) somewhat comfortably. I began to relax, enjoying the familiar sights and sounds of the canyon, the sun rays reflecting off the polished granite, the roar of the rushing creek below.

All in all, the day proved to be a huge boost. Pushing my body and muscles again felt good—as did discovering that they didn’t break when tested. I believe outdoor adventure helps restore the confidence and dignity of cancer survivors (as I mentioned in a previous post), and this certainly proved true this day, as well as the rest of spring break.

The day went so well that Elizabeth and I brought our climbing gear to Colorado Springs a few days later. The first day we top-roped, but then the next day I was ready to hop on the sharp end (lead climbing). We chose Montezuma’s, a 150-foot sandstone tower in the middle of Garden of the Gods State Park, where I proposed to Elizabeth nearly five years ago. By happenstance, a professional sports photographer captured the climb (see slideshow in my next post).

A few days later, we headed to Vail Resort to do some skiing. Unlike rock climbing, this part of our spring break was planned. A few friends invited us to stay at a house, a mere 100 yards from the lift, complete with an outdoor hot tub and five fireplaces—one can never have too many fireplaces 🙂 It was an incredibly generous and timely invitation.

I have been literally dreaming of skiing all winter. Some of my dreams have included skiing couloirs with backcountry skiing friends in Utah. I always wake up feeling bittersweet, happy to hang out with these friends and experience the Wasatch again, if only in my dreams, but sad when I remember it wasn’t real. I’ve had similar surfing dreams, too.

Months ago, Elizabeth mentioned in her blog that she’d been praying God would give me an opportunity to ski this winter. At the time it seemed like an impossible dream, but I know many of you prayed. Thank you! Elizabeth and I skied a half day at small SD ski hill in January, but now we had the opportunity to ski the largest resort in Colorado—Vail—which boasts 31 chair lifts, 5,289 skiable acres and a 3,450-foot vertical. This was my first time at Vail, and some buddy pass discounts helped alleviate the sticker shock (see photo).


The ski area experienced a dry March, but the night before it snowed two inches—better than nothing. Yet some of the ungroomed steeps softened up from the sun, and the new snow made it seem like more like 4 or 5 inches of fresh snow.

We were happy to be there with friends—especially ones with whom I have backcountry skied. And it was handy to have a Vail local, Patrick, guide us through the maze of quad and sextuplet chairs, as well as show us which lift rides would get us from one side of the area to the other.

For me, the day wasn’t just an “Oh-isn’t-it-nice-the-little-cancer-patient-is-getting-out” type of skiing, it felt legit, like a typical day on the mountain, hitting areas like blues, steep blacks and double black diamonds. My energy and ability felt at about 75 percent of normal, which was encouraging. Even my previously crippled back now felt little to no pain as I skied moguls and carved fast giant slalom turns down endless blues.

[wpvideo CH2c29ez]

As a bonus, Elizabeth and I also skied Loveland Pass the second day. One of the best things about Loveland, and maybe the worst when windy, is that this resort resides almost entirely above treeline, giving excellent views of the continental divide mountains, looking like rows of sweeping white tents. I spent the first few hours giving Elizabeth a skiing lesson, which I still remember how to do from my Crested Butte instructor days. This was only her third day on skis in over 10 years, and, ever the athlete, she began quickly learning parallel turns.

All in all, it was a great ski getaway—we must give credit to Pippa’s grandparent babysitters and friends Yuki and Patrick who gave us a place to stay that helped make it possible.

When I think about our spring break, I feel grateful—grateful that Elizabeth and I could do so many active things together. And not just do them halfway, but return to some normalcy, and even try new things, like skiing Vail or Elizabeth ditching her snowboard to re-learn skiing. The activities were cool, but even beyond that, they evidence how well I’m doing physically, and this fuels our hope.

Reflecting on this makes me think again of A Tale of Two Cities. I had trouble sleeping for a few nights (insomnia is a side effect of treatment), and so sometimes Elizabeth reads novels to me. The words, ever poignant, struck a little deeper this time, almost capturing some of our years’ experience.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

This year has been one of contrasts. Upon initial diagnosis, along with months of treatment, we were living in the “worst of times,” just barely holding on to life. But then strangely, there were “best of times” mingled in as well—experiencing a closeness with God I didn’t know was possible, seeing him provide a way, somehow, through the grueling mess, and being closer with Elizabeth, Pippa and my family. Learning how to have a strong, forward-leaning trust in God’s goodness and provision for us, one that keeps standing, despite discouragements and seemingly impossible circumstances. This has been our hope.


Dark days have consumed us, but then light has eventually shone through and overcome the darkness—many times in fact. The winter has felt infinitely long. Even then, the blistering cold and persistent gray days can’t destroy our hope.

That’s the thing about hope—it has no limits. It is not restrained by textbooks, past cases or predictions. Even beyond medicine, my hope is in the Lord. And with God, there is always hope and there is always a way. Like it says in Psalm 71:14 (NIV) “As for me, I’ll always have hope.”

This spring break was a great reminder of how God has recalled me to life. Not just through outdoor adventure, but in my overall outlook on life. And I look forward to continuing to follow him and seeing what he has for me.

[wpvideo RnxkGMm1]

[wpvideo emYQVzKx]


Longing for a Spring Break



Throwback pic from one of many Red Rocks climbing trips in Nevada.

I grew apoplectic as I checked the weather app on my phone in mid-March. “Negative five degrees windchill?” I said. “Are you kidding me? It’s not supposed to be below zero in March.” This seemed cold even for Sioux Falls—ridiculously and unnecessarily cold. I felt like punching walls, shaking babies or even running ten miles (not that I feel up to that currently). Some serious cabin fever was setting in.

Elizabeth and Pippa were getting stir crazy, too. And then it dawned on me suddenly and swiftly—the Lawrences need a spring break. It has been a grueling year, and the persistent cold, gray days of late haven’t helped our mental state. The solution was so simple: cram our stuff in our car and head west. Of course, when you travel with a toddler, this is easier said than done—packing the endless piles of toys and gear, enduring tantrums due to missing a nap and the more-frequent-and-lengthy stops.

But we were on our way, and that was all that mattered.

This year, we set our sights on Colorado for spring break, for many reasons— family, some work needs and we still have a rented house in Longmont (Unfortunately the shortness of this trip won’t allow much time for CO friends). By contrast, my weather app now promised temps in the 60s, 70s and even 80s. Wow, usually one must go much farther south for that type of weather!

I have always loved spring break. It’s an opportunity to shake up the routine and venture somewhere different and warm. No matter what age or stage of life, anyone can benefit from a change of scenery in March.

The concept started in the 1930s and eventually earned a place on our American academic calendar. The hype grew furiously during the 1980s MTV era at Daytona Beach, unleashing a ballyhoo of beaches and beer.


Of course, I prefer spring breaks that include outdoor adventure.

I took my first collegiate spring break in Red Rocks, Nevada—a rock climbing destination near Las Vegas. I soon discovered that sleeping without a tent in the desert is a terrible idea—especially when tumbleweeds attack during a nighttime windstorm. Hello sleep deprivation.

Even after college, I have endeavored to enjoy more spring breaks, which usually include a desert destination within a day’s drive. However, sometimes I’ve broken the norm with something wintery, like a few years ago when my buddy and I skied the Grand Teton.

So, which one of my spring breaks has been my favorite?

Going to the Grand Canyon with Elizabeth when we were first married is high on the list. But another one that stands out includes a return to Red Rocks, about six years ago with my buddy Mike. This was nearly my tenth trip there—I’ve lost count. We completely geeked out on climbing for a full week, with no social obligations or distractions. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with such singular focus. We ascended multipitch after multipitch, including Prince of Darkness, Frigid Aire Buttress and many others. At night, over a dinner of Trader Joe’s or Baja Fresh, we’d peruse climbing guidebooks in our tent, discussing the minutia of our next project. It was like binging on your favorite street taco stand—all week. Finally, you felt like you had your fill of carne asada and cilantro. At least for now.


Here’s another throwback pic from Red Rocks 2009. There’s always some great sport-climbing classics in the Black Canyon. 

During the trip, one moment on the sharp end (lead climbing) typified Type 2 Fun—an experience that is harrowing in the moment and only fun to tell about later. Halfway up the 1,000-foot route, we miscalculated divvying the pitches. Mike, who relishes weird and challenging climbing (which makes him the perfect partner), insisted on the section of offwidth, where the crack is too big for hand jams, and is usually awkward and scary. I ended up leading this pitch. Since there is no easy way to stop climbing once you’ve started, the task fell to me.

Jamming my right thigh in the crack felt very insecure, but it was all I could figure. We only had one big cam, so I had to keep sliding it up every few moves, meaning I risked a massive fall for a few seconds each time—maybe even 80 or 100 feet at the worst points. Fortunately, I somehow groveled and panted my way to the top. I arrived sweaty, haggard and not happy. Meanwhile, Mike sailed past the awkward sections but once at the anchor, looked disappointed. He’d been denied his precious offwidth. Go figure.


There are some pretty entertaining routes in Red Rocks, including Tunnel Vision, where you literally climb through a cave for one of the pitches. 

In the end, this trip proved very memorable. As I have pondered spring break, in some ways there will never be enough of those carefree days for me to enjoy. As time continues to pass quickly—and life seems to go swifter the older I get—life’s difficulties and obligations seem to only increase, making such trips challenging to pull off. Ah, such is life. But as much as we can, my family and I will endeavor to spring break it up, each year.

Back to our present break, Elizabeth and Pippa and I arrived in Colorado a few days ago. The trip was rather last minute as we have already spread ourselves thin moving between Longmont and Colorado Springs in a short time. Maybe we will get to do some skiing and rock climbing?

We hope you get to celebrate spring break, too, whether far away, or even with a warm day in your present locale. Cheers to Spring Break 2017.


The three of us relished the 80 degree weather, including taking Pippa to the playground. 

The Next Frontier


“Going where no man has gone before.”

This may be a Star Trek cliché tagline, but it rings true in my case.

People often ask me, when will you be done with treatment? The answer is that I honestly don’t know, and at this point, neither do my doctors. The reason is that I am the only one getting this treatment; it is not standard practice. It’s like I’m literally exploring a new planet with Captain Kirk and crew. I vote we set our phasors to “eradicate cancer” mode.

In the world of oncology, it typically takes 17 years for a treatment to go from discovery to approval. 17 years! Politics and red tape generally delay approval, and in fairness there are some good reasons, too. But with cancer like mine, 17 years is time I would not have—not even close.

img_6138Fortunately, my treatment has been very effective. In fact, you can read about me in Avera’s cancer magazine. The same story is also on the website and in the magazine Human Touch.

There is a lot to celebrate, but getting to this point has been one long, hard climb.

The next step is also outside the box. Tomorrow, I will be getting Y90, an outpatient procedure where they inject radiation into one side of the liver, the site of the original tumor. It already looks “black and dead,” per my doctor, but this will be an insurance policy to eradicate anything that is left. This procedure has been around for decades, but it is new for my type of cancer—because they don’t usually get to the point where it would be helpful. Praise Jesus.

So, let’s hit warp drive and move things ahead.

How am I feeling going into this? Honestly a bit numb. It’s a pretty chill outpatient procedure, somewhat painful, though I will probably feel lousy this week (schedule has been cleared). However, I’m growing weary of always being on the edge of the next medical treatment. The day before is always a frantic chase to get a bazillion things done before I go back underground. The stress and anticipation of what’s coming gets really old.

Today is Sunday, so my to-do list didn’t include any work, just personal stuff. And, since it was sunny and in the low 60s, it was the perfect day for Elizabeth and Pippa and I to get outside. We went for a long walk along the Sioux River, and then I also rode my Diamondback Cruiser in the afternoon. Just being in the fresh air and actually getting my heart rate up felt so great. The day did not disappoint.

Speaking of disappointment, maybe you were secretly hoping I would nerd out a bit more about Star Trek. The truth is, I confess to be somewhat of a Trekkie. I don’t attend conventions or anything, but I love the Hollywood movies from the late 70s and 80s with William Shatner and Leonard Nemoy. The best one? Easy…Wrath of Khan, when Captain Kirk faces one of the most fearsome military enemies in existence. “And for that…I will blow you out of the stars,” says Khan.

On an adventure note, Captain Kirk fancies himself somewhat of a rock climber. In Star Trek V, the movie opens as he is free soloing a big route on El Capitan—like Alex Honnold does today for real.

Of course, Shatner didn’t actually climb the route. I’m not sure if he ever has even tried the sport. But he did give an interview around that time (posing as an expert) that is rather ridiculous and humorous all at the same time about rock climbing. The best part is that someone later made his comments into a song (see below). Oh, and he is referring to free soloing, not free climbing, which actually uses ropes.


On a more serious note, if you think of me tomorrow or this week, pray that this procedure would be effective. I am very thankful to be at this step and the hope of a better season is very much alive.

May you live long and prosper.