Every ending is a new beginning. Every beginning presupposes an ending. And the universe unfolds exactly as it should.
It’s January 2nd and I’m halfway across the Atlantic Ocean on my way to Africa. I am blessed, and I know it. I have the honor of traveling to Africa with 35 other teammates on an Above + Beyond Cancer journey of compassion and courage. Our team consists of 16 cancer survivors, aged 20–66 and 20 physicians, medical students, college students and caregivers from 4 states in the upper Midwest. We are on our way to Nairobi, Kenya. to provide medical and humanitarian care and support to cancer patients at the only public cancer hospital in a county of 47 million people. While we’re there we will also work with the American Cancer Society, the government of Kenya, and other cancer NGO’s to help build the first ever Hope Lodge outside the United States. This will be a facility where poor Kenyans who need to travel hundreds of miles to receive care, can receive food and housing while they undergo outpatient cancer treatment.
Why would cancer survivors, some of whom have incurable cancer, choose to travel half-way around the world to help Africans who are embarking on their cancer journey. There are 16 different versions of the story and we will share each and every one of those stories with you over the next 2 weeks. The short answer — they realize that they are here today because of the generosity and compassion of family, friends and caregivers who have helped them on their cancer journeys. In the process of coming through their own ordeals, they have cultivated compassion and generosity and want to pay it forward. Justin is a 32-year old brain cancer survivor who was without insurance when he was diagnosed with a grade 3 astrocytoma 7 years ago. He had the good fortune of being able to stay at the Hope Lodge in Iowa City while he underwent 6 weeks of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Now, because of Obamacare, he is able to get insurance and is gainfully employed as a marketing and public relations director for an implement manufacturers in Northern Iowa. He’s excited to journey to Africa to help develop a Hope Lodge that will allow cancer patients on that continent to receive cancer treatment that would otherwise not be possible. Cancer taught Justin many things — above all, to taught him that he is blessed and that that sharing his blessings with others is a sure fire path to fulfillment and joy.
Once we finish our medical mission in Kenya, we will cross over into Tanzania where our Above + Beyond Cancer team will embark on a mind-body-spirit journey to the summit of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro (19,342 ft.). Here’s where the courage comes in. None of our team would consider themselves mountain climbers. They are on this journey, not as athletes on a climb inspire of their cancer. No, they are on this journey because of their cancer. Because of the courage they gained on their cancer journey that gave them the confidence to try to climb this mountain.
Christina is a 34-year old 2 time breast cancer survivor who has undergone more surgeries, chemotherapies and radiation treatments than anyone three times her age should have had to endure. Like many young women who go through breast cancer treatment, she comes through the process free of cancer, but not healthier or more athletic. Christina has take on the personal challenge of getting herself fit and healthy. She knows that she has a second chance at life and is bound and determined to pursue a life of health, fitness, purpose and compassion. She doesn’t know for sure if she can reach the summit, but she knows that it’s only by reaching above and beyond what’s comfortable that she will have the opportunity to learn what she can accomplish. And she’ll be doing it with the the support and encouragement of other in a similar situation.
In addition to the 16 cancer survivors I’m traveling with, I also have prayer flags in my backpack of dozens of other individuals who have been touched by cancer. Some of the flags that have been made to remember individuals who have died of their cancer, others are flags that honor survivors who are still undergoing their cancer journey and cant be with us on the journey to Africa. Our group is carrying over a 1000 prayer flags with us and each and every one of them is a story of courage and compassion — but also a story that underlines the urgency of advancing research and cancer care so that we can change the face of cancer forever.
The prayer flags in my backpack will provide me inspiration as I have the opportunity to help cancer patients at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Kenya and journey to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with the amazing group of cancer survivors and caregivers with whom I’m traveling — many of them patients of mine. Here are just a few of the faces on the prayer flags that are safely tucked in my backpack.