As a breast cancer survivor, I know well how climbing a mountain is a metaphor that can be used to describe the cancer experience. For the next two weeks, my colleagues and I will be following the journey of a special group that has already climbed that metaphorical mountain, as they climb Mount Kilimanjaro together with a doctor who has treated some of them, long-time Society volunteer Richard Deming. Dr. Deming is Founder and Chairman of Above + Beyond Cancer, and is Medical Director of Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines, Iowa. We are thrilled to share his updates on The Road to More Birthdays Blog as he leads this remarkable trip.

Terry Music, chief mission delivery officer, American Cancer Society

As a cancer doctor, I am inspired each and every day by the grace, grit and compassion of my patients. During the next two weeks, I am taking time away from the hospital to embark on a journey that I hope will transform and inspire me. I arrived yesterday in Tanzania with 18 cancer survivors to begin a journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I am with seven men and 11 women, ages 29 to 73, who are survivors of breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, salivary gland cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia. Some have been survivors for over a decade; some are still actively undergoing cancer treatment. The survivors come from every walk of life and include a priest, viola player, army officer, cage fighter, and an insurance executive. We have trained together as a team and we are ready to learn what Africa and the mountain have to teach us.

Climbing a mountain is a metaphor that many cancer survivors use to describe their cancer experience. Only cancer survivors, themselves, can articulate the overwhelming sense of accomplishment they feel when they succeed in reaching the “summit” of their cancer journey. But what every survivor will tell you is that during the ascent, his or her perspective on life is forever changed.

Through the adversity along the way, survivors have to apply personal strengths, often illusive before their trek. On the other hand, they’ve also had to acquire an appreciation for the talents of others, those who are there for their support. At the end of the journey, they are transformed. In straightforward terms: adversity often leads to personal growth.

Most cancer survivors come through their cancer journey with a better sense of who they are, what their priorities should be, and gratitude for having been given a second chance at life. Most come through their experience with a greater appreciation for their fellow human beings, with an enhanced sense of gratitude and generosity. They feel more connected to the world.

This experience resonates with climbers and explorers as well. The journey is difficult, but when one succeeds, there is a rush of excitement and that same sense of accomplishment. And both journeys ultimately become less about getting to the top, and more about the self-knowledge and wisdom one learns along the way. When all is said and done, when the backpacks and hiking boots put away, life goes forward, with a dramatically altered perspective. Priorities are re-ordered. Life is a gift and not a single minute should be “un-lived”.

In April of last year, I led 14 cancer survivors to the Mount Everest Base Camp. It was an incredible journey of inspiration, motivation, and self-discovery not just for the survivors, but for all of us who travelled with them. I had been to Everest in 2000 on a climbing trip with a group of other mountaineers. I knew from that experience that a trip into the Himalayan Mountains could be transformative. That trip for me was all about going further, farther, and higher, yet, along the way I was rewarded by moments of spiritual clarity and a sense of compassion that developed from my relationship with the Sherpa guides and with nature. It was a trip that fulfilled my dreams. My journey to Nepal earlier this year with the cancer survivors was about giving birth to dreams. Even with 30 years of experience caring for cancer patients, I was not prepared for how meaningful and inspirational the Everest journey was going to be.

On our journey to Everest Base Camp, we experienced some physical hardships along the way. The adversity we encountered led us to new heights of personal growth. We met people who lived simple mountain lives. We learned their culture and their religion. We felt gratitude for their hospitality and we learned that we are all connected to each other on this earth. We gained an appreciation for the magnificent beauty of our planet as we travelled into the mountains. We explored our relationship with our environment and we developed humility and gratitude for its splendor.

The adventure on Mount Kilimanjaro will mirror and reinforce the journey already completed by cancer survivors. Laughter and tears along the way will deepen our understanding of how adversity can enhance our lives and the lives of those around us forever. We will return home with an even greater appreciation for life, our planet, and our fellow human beings. Our gratitude and generosity will help change the world we live in for the better. I look forward to sharing our journey with you over the next two weeks.

13 Responses to “Dr. Deming’s Perspective”

  1. Joe& Patty James

    We will be following every step of your climb. We are one with you in spirit. Joe and Patty

    Reply
  2. Susan Mixdorf

    Tell Dr.Hiatt to kick some rear up there! I’m fighting cancer here while he is gone and he is fighting that Mountain. We are proud of all of you!

    Susan MIxdorf
    Breast Cancer Patient
    2 chemo down, 6 to go!

    Reply
  3. Laura Mikota

    Dr Deming – words cannot even begin to describe what an inspiration and blessing you have been to so many cancer surviors and their families. Thank you for your compassion and committment. Thank you for being willing to take people on a journey of a lifetime!

    Laura Mikota
    Proud daughter of Connie Duinink

    Reply
  4. Mark and Carol Hillman

    We wish we were there with you, but our thoughts are with you every step! Be safe!
    Mark and Carol

    Reply
  5. Kathy Meyer

    Dr. Deming,
    In the short time Tim and I have gotten to know you it has become so evident that your life is all about service, gratitude and joy. What better gitf could you give to others than to iinstill l in them those same qualities! Thank you for being WONDERFUL YOU! Tim is a very lucky man spending two weeks journeying with you! God bless you always!

    Reply
  6. Tim Hade

    My nephew was one of your patients, and I know how much Chris, and
    his entire family loved and admired you, not only as a Doctor, but as
    a man.
    Thank you for making the world a better place.

    Tim Hade

    Reply
  7. Tim Hade

    My 2:31PM post should read Love and Admire & not be in past tense.

    I could not see past the tears of pride and love that were in my eyes
    as I finished viewing the Everest Video and read my brother’s wish.

    Reply
  8. Kathy Fech

    This trip will be full of holiness and also full of bad jokes. My sympathies to anyone within earshot of Frank Bognanno. 🙂 Have a blessed, sacred, joyous, healthy, safe journey. God bless each of you!!

    Reply
  9. cindy alvarez

    I am in awe of the trip and outcome from it, I know that this personal journey shared with many will inspire and instill hope and renewal of faith. God Bless you All!

    Reply
  10. Patti

    WONDERFUL for every moment you all with experience on this journey!!

    Reply
  11. Don Denner

    Wishing all of you, safety, peace, strength and happiness on your journey. You guys ROCK!(bad pun intended)
    Don Denner 5 year cancer survivor

    Reply
  12. Leslie Shollenbarger

    Dr. Deming,

    I am not sure how to adequately say thank you for giving my Mom an experience of a lifetime. This is a tremendous way to celebrate her cancer free health in such a dynamic way! God bless you for your care and service to people in need!

    Leslie Shollenbarger
    Daughter of Connie Duinink

    Reply
  13. GINNY SAYLOR

    TO DR. DEMING AND THE GROUP,OF THE LIVE STRONG,,,,YOU ARE, ALL BLESSED!!
    AND REMEMBER HIS WORDS…

    “LIVE,LOVE LAUGH,, AND BEST OF ALL LEARN”

    Reply

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