Cancer was not on Tim Meyer’s radar three months ago. It was in the sense that he knew the disease existed, and that three of his friends had prostate cancer, including one who passed away this fall. But in his mind, it wasn’t something that he had or would ever have.
The evening that his son Matt, who worked for Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, requested that Tim and Tim’s wife join Matt for a presentation on cancer survivorship, Tim was reluctant. They went to appease their son. Nothing more.
What Tim heard that night from Dr. Richard Deming and the group of 14 cancer survivors he led to Mt. Everest base camp in the spring blew him away.
“I didn’t expect anything like that,” he recalls.
Tim sat in the audience that night, inspired by Dr. Deming and his genuine compassion, but still, he thought, cancer did not know his name.
Three months later he was diagnosed. Four weeks later he had surgery to remove his prostate.
When Tim ran into Dr. Deming at a function, he informed him of his diagnosis.
“Why don’t you come to Mt. Kilimanjaro with us!” was the doctor’s response.
Though Tim was taken aback at the time of the offer, this morning he appeared from his tent, safari hat on head, and began greeting the 18 other cancer survivors and 21 caregivers in his camp in the middle of the Tanzanian jungle.
Last evening in our tent city, Tim reflected back on the path that had brought him here. The fate of having found an opportunity to journey with a group of people who share a tight bond only two months off of his surgery is something he smiles and shakes his head at.
“I think everybody’s story is just so important,” Tim said. “And everybody’s story is just so different. Once you’ve been there, their stories mean so much more.”
When he initially signed up for the excursion, the goal and the purpose and meaning was to scale a mountain.
“It was all about the mountain. The group was secondary,” he said. “And that whole thing’s turned around.”
As he hiked on day one yesterday, he discovered the mind, body and soul experience Dr. Deming had been talking about all along. Being around people who have been through it, away from distraction, living in the moment, is now what the journey is about to him.
“There’s a lot of growth that comes from the individual sharing with other people,” he said. “The sharing has meant a lot to me.”
As we sat in the camp chatting last evening, prostate cancer survivors Gail Endres and Dave Bartemes wandered over to stand by Tim. It was as if the bond they share has a magnetic force amongst them. Tim has found much comfort and perspective in Gail and Dave along the trail. Dave stood, nodding his head at what Tim was experiencing. But for Dave, who was diagnosed many years ago, hadn’t felt comfortable opening up in front of strangers until now.
“By talking about it, it makes it real,” Dave said. “It makes it okay that I am who I am.”
For Gail Endres, who also hiked to Mt. Everest base camp in the spring with a group of cancer survivors, it’s fair to say his life has been changed by these experiences.
“He’s the happiest I ever remember seeing him,” said his daughter Jill.
Later on in the camp, prostate cancer survivor Steven Rebelsky passed by after hearing the daily reflections within the group.
“You think you’re alone,” he said, fighting back tears. “But here you see that you’re not.”