Live Intentionally: Inspired Chemo Nurse Preparing for the PCT

A satisfied grin crept across my face as I neatly printed the words, “To Allison, From Santa” on a package neatly wrapped in llama print Christmas paper. I tucked it under the three-foot tree that was gifted to us, knowing that I’d act surprised when I opened yet another piece of backpacking gear that I bought for myself on Christmas.

The countdown timer on my phone ticks away the days, reminding me that my PCT start date is just three months away. My excitement builds as we watch videos and read books by former thru-hikers (more food hauls, please!).

How Did You Hear About the PCT?

Each person has a unique calling to the trail. Like many others, Wild was my first exposure to the PCT. Cheryl Strayed was 22 years old when her mom died of cancer. I was 19. I read her book while trying to “fake it till you make it” during an awkward family Christmas without my mom. At first, I was drawn to her character’s epic trek following the loss of her mom. I felt connected to her in grief and her desperate longing for adventure. 

Redirected Purpose

Since then I have done so many incredible things shaped by the loss I faced at 19. I spent half a decade coaching the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program for cancer survivors, raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Ulman Cancer Fund by biking and running across America, and started my incredible career as a (traveling) oncology certified nurse. Slowly I realized that perhaps I have my poop more in a group than my own idol. I accomplished all of these great things in the wake of grief. I’m thankful to have skipped the painful choices she made that lead her to the trail (read: hard drugs, infidelity, divorce). I was lucky enough to cope with my grief in a positive, generous, and uplifting way. 

 

Why the PCT?

Now when people ask me, “Why do you want to do the PCT? The whole PCT?” My answer nods to my original inspiration and focuses more on a new and flourishing motivation. I have always been drawn to huge adventures. I want to do the larger than life, best, biggest, and over the top version of a thing you can do. Sure, I could ride my bike to the ice cream store, but what if I rode it from coast to coast? My weekend backpacking trips in Northern Idaho and British Columbia became my favorite diversion. Because I am who I am, I wanted to do the longest and most adventurous version of my main hobby. THE PCT. 

I want to do it because it’s there. Because it’s huge. And because most people think the idea is deranged. The obsession lingers and grows and now it’s finally time.

No Job? No Money? No Regrets

I chose to start my hike in the year 2020 to balance two very conflicting values in my life. I wanted to be completely debt free when I started the trail. When I graduated from nursing school in 2016 I made a plan, stuck to it, and paid off nearly $28,000 of student loan debt, auto loans, and credit cards. I wanted to pursue my aspiration as soon as humanly possible. Working as an oncology nurse, I am all too familiar with the ways life and illness can sideline a person’s plans. My patients consistently and almost unanimously tell me they regret waiting to pursue what they really wanted out of life. The people I’ve taken care of lament deferring their plans for when something was just right. Time, money, fear, laziness, and complacency all work together to tell us that we will get to our goals later. My patients inspire me to live life as fully and intentionally as possible, and to do it now.

PCT March 22, 2019!

If you’re still reading this I’d be honored if you chose to be a part of this journey by reading along. I’ll be sharing my experiences here so you can be a part of me becoming the dirtiest, happiest, hiker trash version of myself.

Your favorite dirtbag nurse,

Allison

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    Drew Boswell : Dec 26th

    This: “My patients consistently and almost unanimously tell me they regret waiting to pursue what they really wanted out of life. ” I’m one of the lucky ones who made it through diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and (so far) recovery. Cancer will change one’s priorities. We all have the same life expectancy – one. One life. Go climb your mountains, and thanks for reminding me to keep climbing my own. Cheers.

    Reply
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      Allison Perrine : Jan 6th

      Thanks for sharing! What are your big mountains? Got any exciting goals?

      Reply
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      Fossil : Feb 24th

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Drew! My experience is that there is a robust camaraderie which exists amongst survivors because of individuals sharing their experiences, as you have. It helps people like me remember and realize I’m not in this alone, and our collective cohesion is what it is by virtue of us peeling back the layers and sharing our fears, courage, gratitude, excitements and insights. It’s all part of the cocktail of emotions we acknowledge as survivors that make up the human experience.

      I’ve memorized your words on life expectancy — “one.” I know my specific cancer is expected to progress one day. The clock is ticking. I know those little cells are buried in there somewhere doing push-ups, preparing for their next show. Many others have said it sometimes feels like you are walking around with an anvil hanging overhead waiting to fall at any moment. That said, there is a sense of urgency to get out and grab life, and living for everything it is. Not doing so feels like I’m wasting precious moments.

      I feel alone and scared at making that first step on the trail in Campo on May 9th. I try reminding myself of how I felt the day I walked into the infusion room for my first 8 hour chemo infusion. The uncertainties and anxiety were crushing. I was lucky I had a care team of chemo nurses who were genuine, and helped me make those first steps. So, I try telling myself if I made it through that, I should be able to courageously step forward on that path. And cheers to you!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Tracey : Dec 29th

    You are a wise person. I wish you the best of luck on your journey. I try to trail angel in my area near the PCT. Maybe I can catch you as you come off the Hat Creek Rim.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Allison Perrine : Jan 6th

      That would be incredible because I know that is a very hot, dry, and difficult stretch. Follow along and stay in touch 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Carolyn : Dec 29th

    Best wishes

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jim Collins : Jan 5th

    What an inspiration! I’m not leaving till March 28. Maybe I’ll catch you. We have a mutual friends in Elevator and Dustbuster.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Allison Perrine : Jan 6th

      Are you also from Spokane or are you a fellow thru-hiker?

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Fossil : Feb 24th

    Well, I’m a cancer guy. NMZ NHL, stage 3, class of 2015. Everyone’s chemo experience is individual. My chemo nurses were hilarious. No holds barred, hilarious. Being new to infusion rooms, I expected a very solemn, grave, dark mood, but they made me laugh with some joke or wise ass comment each treatment, which ultimately saved my spirit from eroding to nothing. They helped me get out of my head. I was one of those who led a text book lifestyle of being Uber active, excellent diet since day one but cancer happened anyway. Indeed, no regrets. I’ve lived a full life full of adventures trekking all over the planet. However, since those little cells are in there somewhere doing push-ups getting ready for their next rodeo, I figured the PCT (NOBO) was in order. Hope to see at least some other survivors out on the trail.

    Reply

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