As you could tell by the picture below, or if you followed my Tweets, we went to Niagara Falls, NY last week. For those of you that do not know I was born in Niagara Falls, as were my 2 sisters and my Dad.
Anyone who lives in a touristy place knows that people who live there don’t bother with the tourist attractions. I mean we live 65 miles from DC and never go there, at all. Growing up we never went on the Maid of the Mist.
If you don’t know the Maid of the Mist are actually multiple boats on the American and Canadian side that go from the Niagara Gorge to right up to the base of the Falls. Or as close as you can safely get to them. On the American side to get to where you board the boats you have to go what is called the Observation Tower. This tower is 282 feet tall and you have to go across a deck to it. Over the gorge. 282 feet over it.
I am terrified of heights absolutely horrified of them. In fact, last year when we went to the Falls I had a severe panic attack and we had to get away from them for me to calm down. This year, we got to the Falls themselves and I did pretty well. Not like most people right on top of them but ok.
Then we got to the Observation Tower again for the Maid of the Mist, Tony, Richie, and Tre and Charlie. As Tony pushed my chair onto the deck I started to panic. It was a bad one, barely hanging on, making the poor boys stay right with me as I just kept picturing them falling.
We got down to the boat, and on that I relaxed and just enjoyed it. Riding up to the Falls on that boat, with the mist hitting you, then more and more water, the roar of the Falls, and the whole thing is just breathtaking. It is one of the few places on the planet that I absolutely feel like I belong and am whole. In fact, I get so into it that I really don’t pay all that much attention to everyone around me.
After the ride, unfortunately, we had to go back up the tower, to the deck. This time they went out to the area further out, that has pretty much nothing but air, water, and rocks below. I couldn’t do it. I was just trying to breathe.
Eventually, they finished, we left, all was well.
The next day, Tony and I were going to go on the boat with my sisters and all their kids, unfortunately the place we were going to park was full so we ended up parking on Goat Island which was a far walk from the boat, and well, it was just going to take too long to get to them. We told them to go ahead on the boat.
Tony and I wandered around the island, across several bridges, taking pictures, looking at the Falls from various view points. We took probably a couple hours to get over to where the Maid of the Mist is. It was lovely actually. And, I had no panic attacks, no issues at all. I was doing this deep breathing thing and just enjoying it.
We got to the Maid of the Mist, went up the elevator and the zen was still there. I got onto the Tower and I was relaxed. No panic, no fast breathing, nothing. It was amazing.
We went on the boat and just had a fantastic ride. In fact, this one was even more enthralling as a huge storm came in while we were on the boat. We were soaked through to the bone, even with the blue ponchos on. When it was done, Tony got me and my chair back up the ramp as fast as possible, up the elevator and to where the deck is.
Instead of having Tony turn me back toward land and away from the Deck that goes out over the Gorge. I had him take me out to the deck, in the storm, over the Gorge. And it was incredible. For the first time in my life I wasn’t afraid, I could actually take in the view from the deck and see all of the beautiful scenery around me. It was awe inspiring.
Then, a few minutes after I had sat in the center of the deck, Tony asked if I wanted to go closer to the edge and I let him. I wasn’t completely comfortable but, I wasn’t terrified. While I was sitting there taking it all in, and just wondering at the beautiful of it all, I felt Tony’s hands on my shoulders and a couple tears slid down my face. Tears of absolute happiness and freedom that I had finally faced one of my hugest fears and gone beyond it.
The night before, when I was getting ready for bed and thinking about how I let the fear overwhelm me, I got to thinking about everything I had been through the past year, including thinking that I was going to die either from the kidney cancer, or on the operating table, and realized that having cancer was horrifying.
Worrying about dying from cancer is terrifying. And that I had allowed the cancer to have that power over me until I eventually made myself go beyond that and wake up. When that happened the realization that I made it through the surgery, I was almost a year out from diagnosis and alive. If I can get to the point that I don’t hyperventilate when thinking about having renal cell carcinoma, I can get past being 282 feet in the air.
And, I did. I allowed myself to feel and see the beauty and wonder of the namesake of my birth and let myself go beyond it. When we got done there, and went out through the Maid of the Mist gift shop, even though I had bought a key chain the day before, I asked Tony to look and see if they had any necklace charms. We found a couple different kinds, both personalized.
The one I liked they didn’t have any version of my name in (Susan or Suzy.) I was a little down until I saw that they had one personalized with “Brat.” Tony called me brat for years and it was one of my favorite nicknames he has ever called me. He bought the charm for me and I added it to the necklace that I wear everyday. It has my medical id on it, my two circle charms, one that says courage and one that says survivor, my kidney cancer awareness ribbon (orange ribbon), and now my Maid of the Mist charm with the brat tag.