Climbing for a Cure

“Please tell me what can I do. There must be something I can do”
― Ernest HemingwayThe Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories


On March 8, 2016 I was told the three words that no one ever wants to hear “You have cancer.” In that moment my life changed forever. At the age of 40, I was staring down a Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis. Practically, what this meant for me was that the next eight months of my life would be consumed with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I would lose my hair. I would lose my eyebrows. I would lose a breast; but I was determined not to lose my spirit.

In the early and terrifying days after my diagnosis, I received some invaluable advice from a friend whose partner had recently been through breast cancer treatment. “Find something that is yours that the cancer can’t take away from you” he said “Do it, and do it as much as you can.”

I had been active before my diagnosis running right up until the day before my surgery but I made a commitment to myself that I would exercise throughout my cancer treatment. It would be my non-negotiable that cancer wouldn’t interfere with. Running had to be put on hold for a period of time after surgery and during chemotherapy, but I set myself a goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. Aside from the worst of my post chemo crash days, I walked every day. I didn’t always make my step goal but I always got out there.

I remember one day in the summer of 2016 when I was well into my chemotherapy treatment heading out rather unsteadily for a walk on the hilly roads around my cottage. My father who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2014 suggested that I use a walking stick to help myself along, as he had done when ascending the mountain. As I set out on my walk, with an old hockey stick acting as my crutch, I imagined myself miles away from this reality. I was in Tanzania triumphantly reaching the summit of the mountain that had captivated me since I first read Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro in Grade 10.

Not long afterwards, my friend Jason Mitschele and I had a conversation about making this dream a reality. Jason and I met in law school and have been friends for twenty years. Jason has lived with significant vision loss since birth and in 2005 became completely blind. Prior to my illness, we had completed a number of athletic events together including long distance bike rides, runs and mini-triathlons for cancer and vision charities. In the summer of 2016, Jason was recovering from serious abdominal surgery while I was undergoing chemotherapy. We promised each other that when we were better we would climb Kilimanjaro.

I am delighted that the day has arrived where Team Kilimanjaro, made up of myself, Jason, and Dwayne King a retired police officer who will be Jason’s guide are in full planning, fundraising and training mode. Our “Climb for a Cure” to Kilimanjaro is scheduled to take place in March 2019.

I will be fundraising for the Canadian Cancer Society to help support the nearly 1 in 2 Canadians expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Donations to the Climb for a Cure will help fund life-saving research, much-needed support services for patients and their families and other important work that could change lives. In addition to raising money, we also hope to inspire others who are living with vision loss or a cancer diagnosis to embrace their dreams.

We have a number of events planned to help us achieve our fundraising goal and get us in shape to get up Africa’s largest peak. I will be blogging about them here.

Another wise friend said to me that getting through cancer treatment is like climbing a mountain. You just have to put one foot in front of the other until you get up and over it. It’s time now for the mountain of my dreams!

Please follow along with our adventures here, and if you are able join @climb2019 by making a donation today at our GO FUND ME page.

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7 thoughts on “Climbing for a Cure

  1. Bess Joffe

    You are an inspiration. Both you and Jason blow us away. So excited to be able to “join” you on this journey. Absolutely amazing. I feel so proud to be friends with you Niamh.


    1. I am so honoured to be your friend too. I never would have made it to this point without the support of my amazing network including you! So happy for you to be with me here as I embark on this next adventure.


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