Curiosity is what drove her to hike over 100 mountains, travel to five continents, walk thousands of miles and reach some of the highest mountain peaks. Bonnie Seefeldt is a hiking enthusiast whose interest in exploration has allowed her to discover and reach many geographical points and places in her life.
In the high altitude, when you reach that peak, you realize how small you are compared to everything else. This moment of accomplishment has helped Seefeldt to focus on her surroundings rather than herself. Through her mountaineering experiences, she has learned to be unpretentious and to enjoy each step, sound and breath while on her way to the summit. Standing at the top, in that moment of stillness, she often glazed at the world with amusement.
Seefeldt can hardly describe her appetite for life.
The passion for mountaineering drove her, at age 23, to move to Seattle from San Diego. She was looking for a variety of hiking seasons and she wanted the mountains to be “in her backyard.” It wasn’t a surprise that Seefeldt built her house in a city surrounded by three mountains from the west, south and east — often referred to by Seattleites as the “Trailhead City” – the Sammamish Plateau in Issaquah.
Once she moved, “everything fell into place,” she recalls.
Despite the fact that it took her “three months to pronounce Issaquah,” Seefeldt felt at home, and she loved it. Soon after she met Michael, her husband of 24 years.
One of her favorite parts of the Issaquah community, and her street in particular, is that everyone knows one another, people are united and they look out for each other.
“I have changed the diapers of all the neighbors kids, now they are out of college,” she reflectively noted with a smile.
Seefeldt was enjoying many of the things that her new life had to offer, but it wasn’t until the age of 50 that she discovered the Bikram yoga practice.
Her first impression: “I hate it. That was horrible. I will never do this again,” she told herself. Though, later that day things changed for her – she noticed how much better her body was feeling. Since then she had not only returned, but Bikram yoga had become an important part of her life.
“The studio on its own was like a small community,” Seefeldt recalled.
One of her regular days of practice turned out to be a life-changing experience. Before class, Seefeldt realized she had gotten her period “again”, even though she had gone through menopause at age 40. She noticed and joked about it with her teacher at that time:
“Don’t pick on me today — I got my period again.”
But her teacher, out of worry and suspicion, did some research online and contacted Seefeldt and told her: “you’ve got to go see your oncologist, this isn’t normal.” So Seefeldt did.
The day her oncologist saw her, she was diagnosed with ovarian/ fallopian tube cancer and she was scheduled for surgery for the next day: a full-abdominal hysterectomy. At that moment, her life had turned upside down.
“I was a mess,” she said.
Seefeldt started chemotherapy immediately and a port device was inserted in her upper chest, which helped her with her chemo infusions and blood samples. Her doctor prohibited her from attending any yoga classes fearing that she would be exposed to germs and bacteria dangerous in her condition. Despite the advice of her doctor, Seefeldt couldn’t just leave yoga behind. Luckily, that same teacher who advised her to call her doctor was also the studio owner, and she was happy to provide her with access to the studio after hours so she could practice on her own, safe from the exposure to others.
Seefeldt did everything by the book and after five months of change, chemo and yoga, she was in remission.
Regrettably though, the remission didn’t last even a year. Small cancer cells were found in her lower abdomen, spleen, and vaginal organs. Seefeldt found herself sitting in that chemo chair, once again, fighting cancer.
During her second treatment Seefeldt’s doctors found out that she also had BRCA level 2, the gene that produces tumor suppressor proteins. This made her eligible for an experimental oral PARP inhibitor called Olaparib and for the second time around there it was: the chair, the Taxol and Carboplatin infusion chemotherapy and the oral drugs.
“I was devastated.”
But see, if you meet Seefeldt you would realize that the devastation she had experienced was just a fleeting moment of her life, not a perspective or a lifestyle. Her philosophy is that we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. As all of these events have unfolded in her life, Seefeldt is not fighting cancer only with drugs and infusions; she is fighting it with attitude, motivation and strength. We all know the saying: “the glass is half full, not half empty.” Well, that’s how she thinks.
“You cannot be negative, this does not have good effects on you,” she said.
If there is one thing she could name that has been really upsetting to her “is how food tastes,” while going through chemo.
Sometimes she feels like: “sucking a dusty carpet is probably tastier than eating dinner.”
Nowadays, there are only a few foods that she truly enjoys and one of them is egg salad on sourdough bread.
Seefeldt followed all of her doctors advices, except one, she was not only going to continue her yoga practice, but she was going to do it in regular class time.
“I missed my friends and the energy of the class,” she said. “I just didn’t want to practice alone anymore.”
Seefeldt is definitely not alone. She always has family and friends during her chemotherapy sessions and her yogi friends are always surrounding her. Her week is active and busy: she works, has chemo, does yoga, hikes and hangs out with family and friends, but also knows when to take a break.
“Yoga has helped me to tolerate it.”
Bikram yoga has shown Seefeldt how stay focused on the task at hand, how to enjoy the changes in between and how to recognize and solute her mind and body strengths. The practice has also helped her to sleep better while being able to get rid of all the toxins in the sweaty hot room. As anyone, Seefeldt has good and bad days, but in these moments she always tries to listen to her body and take it one step at the time.
In hiking, Bikram yoga or life Seefeldt says that it is about the patience, and just being able to commit and put one foot in front of the other.
“If you think you are always going to always to make it to the top – you are going to be disappointed,” she said. “ This is with everything in life, but if you can take those disappointments and strive – you can overcome anything.
“I never had to get to a summit.”
Seefeldt believes people should learn how to enjoy their life’s journey, to appreciate it and to truly see what’s around them in that specific moment. For her it’s more important to spend time with her hiking friends than reaching the peak, and when they do, it’s simply about embracing the moment. Their inside joke: “now it’s a Miller time.”
Seefeldt goal is to be in remission soon and she hopes to manage the cancer thereafter with the oral drug for the rest of her life. Her smile and inspiring spirit does not only affect her in a positive way, but everyone around her. She might not know, but while she is going through this journey, everyone around her – even me – is learning from her: how to be brave, courageous, and determined; how to focus on life and living, rather than the trivial details in between.
“You can be as bitter as you want to, but you’ve got to let it go. Otherwise you will not have a good life.”
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