Two women met when they found out they were both breast cancer survivors.
One had decided to climb to the top of a mountain to show the world there is life after breast cancer.
One agreed to raise money for the climb to show the world that breast cancer is a public health crisis.
Together, Laura Evans, who founded Expedition Inspiration, and Andrea Ravinett Martin, who founded the Breast Cancer Fund, created a movement.
Their book, Climb Against the Odds: Celebrating Survival on the Mountain, describes their journey.
Though Laura Evans was an athlete and a mountain climber already, for this venture, she decided to climb the highest mountain in South America, Mount Aconcagua, in Argentina, at 22,837 feet.
In 1989, she had been diagnosed with a fast-growing breast cancer that involved 11 nodes, with a 15% chance of surviving three to five years.
At the time, she was 40 years old and had just returned from a 250-mile hike through Nepal when she felt a lump and went to her doctor.
A bone marrow transplant followed.
She was ready to tackle the tallest mountain in South America next.
But, she didn’t just want to climb.
She wanted to make a point.
She wanted other breast cancer survivors to climb with her.
A mutual friend introduced her to Martin, whom she asked to be the financial arm of the expedition.
Martin was 42 when she discovered she had breast cancer when a lump her doctor had been following for three years was biopsied and found to be malignant.
She was given a 40% chance of surviving five years.
Chemotherapy, surgery and radiation followed, along with visualization, acupuncture and herbs.
It recurred two years later, in 1991.
As Martin saw it,
“[The proposal to climb Mount Aconcagua] had great potential to accomplish a lot of good by providing a unique way for women to turn their courage from fighting breast cancer to a challenge of their own choosing, to increase awareness and education about the disease with a strong message of hope, and to raise funds needed for research, education, advocacy, and patient-support projects.”
Together, they climbed Mount Aconcagua in 1995, Martin to the base camp at 13,800 feet, Evans to the summit.
From the beginning, they planned two teams, breast cancer survivors who would try for the summit and breast cancer survivors who would climb to support the effort.
They took guides and a support team, including photographers, but had to haul their own equipment.
Team members got in shape by carrying backpacks with weights up and down stairs.
One member carried 20 pounds of kitty litter jogging, hiking, and working out on a treadmill.
Others trained with 30 or 40 pounds in preparation for carrying a 40 to 50-pound pack on the trail.
The hikers were all fit, outdoors people, but they weren’t all mountain climbers.
The group arranged a shakedown climb up Mount Rainier in the state of Washington, in July, 1994.
At 14,411 feet, it is a little taller than the height of basecamp on Mount Aconcagua.
One woman finished chemotherapy only six weeks before the shakedown climb.
Several completed their cancer treatments only a year before the expedition.
The book describes Evans’ accomplishment of summitting Mount Aconcagua, on February 4, 1995:
“Evans had made her personal battle public with a dramatic top-of-the-world warrior cry against breast cancer.”
“But the summit remained an intensely personal victory for her as well.”
“She had fought back from the brink of death.”
“She was proud of what her body had accomplished.”
Though Evans died of a brain tumor in 2000, she had stood on the summit of Mount Aconcagua six years after her doctor’s original 1989 prognosis of three to five years.
In the Spring of 1998, the Breast Cancer Fund assembled a team of 10, half breast cancer survivors, half young women at Princeton University who had never had breast cancer on an expedition to Mount McKinley (20,300 feet).
Weather kept them from summiting.
In August, 2000, they took 25 climbers from the U.S. and more than 375 climbers from Japan on an expedition to Mount Fuji (12,400 feet).
Breast cancer had increased by 40% in the previous decade in Japan and the group wanted to increase awareness of the disease there.
Martin succumbed to a brain tumor in 2003, after 10 years as Executive Director of the Breast Cancer Fund.
The Breast Cancer Fund continues to advocate for reducing pollutants in the environment, as contributory to the risk for breast cancer, and to underwrite mountain climbing expeditions to promote breast cancer awareness.
Their next planned climb is Mount Shasta, California, June 16, 2013, at 14,179 feet.
Order your own copy of the book from amazon by clicking here on the title, Climb Against the Odds: Celebrating Survival on the Mountain, by The Breast Cancer Fund, with Mary Papenfuss.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma?”