Most coworkers get to know each other while working on the same teams, in the break room or walking past each other’s cubicles every day. As team members of Wells Fargo Corporate Trust Services, we never expected to meet and bond in a group of cancer survivors on a hiking trip through Peru.
Now we hang out in the break room and at each other’s cubes – not only thanks to Wells Fargo, but to the transformational journeys we experienced together with the nonprofit organization, Above + Beyond Cancer.
Above + Beyond Cancer is a relatively new nonprofit whose sole mission is to “elevate the lives of those touched by cancer, to create a healthier world.” Based out of Des Moines, Iowa and founded by Dr. Richard Deming, the group’s main way of meeting that objective is by taking cancer survivors on extremely physically demanding mountain climbing trips to places such as Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and, this year, the Andes mountains of Peru.
The goal of these trips is to inspire cancer survivors and those around them by showing them that a diagnosis does not have to be the end of your life – in fact it can be the beginning of an entirely new outlook on life.
Through hiking the Salkantay Trail all the way to Machu Picchu, we learned just as much about ourselves as we did of about the fellow cancer survivors we bonded with. It was an extremely exhausting and immensely demanding endeavor to say the least. However, by pushing ourselves beyond what we thought were our limits, we now know we’re capable of more than we think. We have more thirst for adventure. And if we can climb mountains as high as 15,000 feet, how much easier is it to just incorporate smaller, healthier choices into our daily lives?
A fateful meeting
A week before heading out on our journey, we found ourselves standing in line next to each other at Taco John’s – but we didn’t know it.
Scott knew I looked familiar, but he didn’t know how that was so. Later while walking back to the office, he received a ping on his phone from Above + Beyond Cancer, with a link to a page announcing that “Joseph Sabroski is going to Peru.” There was the picture of the person he had just stood in line next to – who he realized was also a Wells Fargo employee. Not only that: he worked on the same floor in Corporate Trust.
When the departure date arrived, we were strangers no more. Having both donned the red fleece jackets emblazoned with the Above + Beyond team logo, it was rather easy to spot each other in the airport terminal. We were temporarily leaving our Wells Fargo lives behind and initiating an adventure we could not yet fathom.
Above + Beyond Cancer is about so much more than transforming futures, too. It’s about learning to become present: to live in the now, to savor the journey, not the destination, and to not worry about making it to the top. Dr. Deming can often be found asking, “Can you take one more step? Just one more step?”
These words helped us to accomplish big goals by not thinking about how big they were. And that mode of thinking is not always familiar to those who have experienced cancer, or those who have seen their loved ones diagnosed. As lymphoma survivors, we understand the stress of uncertain futures, wondering if we will make it out alive.
One more step.
“Awaken your spirit”
It only takes a couple steps to climb out of your tent and gaze upon Mount Salkantay from the base of the glacier, a sight not soon forgotten. Each morning in Peru, we would start our day with a wonderfully cooked meal, a hot cup of coffee or tea, and some of the most stunning scenery the planet has to offer. Before making headway on the day’s hike, Dr. Deming would select and read aloud a blessing from a book by the poet John O’Donohue:
“Awaken your spirit to adventure. Hold nothing back. Learn to find ease in risk. Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, for your soul senses the world that awaits you.”
Meditating on these words, we found strength in a newfound spirit of adventure in all sorts of exciting, adrenaline-fueled experiences. We summited the world’s most dangerous hike. We trudged down a mudslide for two hours and sprinted towards a train, catching it literally seconds before it left. We endured dehydration, delirium, border-line hypothermia, and pure exhaustion, all so we could finally lay eyes on Machu Picchu. And it was worth every shiver and drop of sweat.
While Above + Beyond Cancer primarily invites cancer survivors and caregivers to different locales and ascents, the group has always symbolically represented many more participants through Relay For Life ceremonies, in which an assortment of prayer flags are hung in honor of those who cannot physically be there on the journey. We collectively carried over 1,000 flags with us on this journey, some of which are tributes from our Wells Fargo family.
The flags were hung on strings overhead and create a sacred space where a ceremony was held. This ceremony had three parts: celebrating survivorship, remembering those we’ve lost, and championing the continued fight against cancer.
It wouldn’t have been the same without the support of our own Wells Fargo coworkers being there in spirit.
Above and beyond
Following our transformative journey, we both returned to the office the next day. We met outside a cube with a hearty greeting, noting the bizarre feeling of seeing each other in business attire. It was strange to have first created these strong bonds with such a great group of people in such a remote part of the world, only to now be back in the climate-controlled comforts of America.
And so we made our way back to Taco John’s as two amigos forever. In a place that hadn’t changed one bit, we wondered aloud how soon until the euphoria would fade into the ordinariness of everyday life. It didn’t seem to be taking long. Regardless of circumstance, we knew this much: we had not come back the same, and our lives are forever elevated for it.
You can learn more about Above + Beyond Cancer and read all of the journal entries from their transformational journey by clicking here.