ONE STEP AT A
When you are three miles above sea level on a
mountains glacial sea of snow and ice, thats as far ahead as you can allow
yourself to think. Take the next step, and then the next. Lungs burn, legs ache. How do
you get to the top? One step at a time.
Evans knows that the same mental focus can be necessary to survive other challenges as
well. There are some amazing women who climb mountains, and others who survive
battles with cancer. Fewer still have triumphed at both. And in an irony that perhaps only
Laura Evans herself can totally understand, she is using each one to win battles against
She is a fashion designer by profession, specializing in the active
sports market. While working for the shoe company New Balance in 1983, she met mountain
climbing legend Lou Whittaker who convinced her that she should try to climb the 14,
410-foot peak Mt. Rainier, in Washington states Cascade Range.
"Unfortunately," Evans recounts, " I (broke my ankle) in a traverse and
they brought me down in a basket. I was 34 years old and that was my introduction to
"That injury actually changed everything for me," she
remembers. "If I would have gone out there and climbed to the top of Mt. Rainier,
which I was very capable of doing, I probably never would have gone back. But when I went
back (in 1985), it was with a whole different attitude." She climbed to the summit of
Mt. Rainier, but more importantly, as she puts it, "
fell in love with the
mountains and the whole process of climbing, and it simply changed my life. It was not so
much getting to the top, although that was important. It was the whole process
the teamwork and the mental fortitude."
At 36 years of age, Evans was taking up an activity that is daunting
to even the most fit and daring. "Ive always been adventurous. I dont
think age has been an issue for me. Ive always wanted to be out on the edge a little
bit and have the adrenaline going." In the next few years it wouldnt be the
only way she would "walk on the edge".
LAURA DISCOVERED A LUMP in her
breast in the spring of 1989 but a mammogram showed nothing unusual to her doctor. In
early December she discovered a second lump and exploratory surgery revealed it had spread
to 11 lymph nodes. Along with her husband, Roger, they consulted oncologists across the
country and most gave her discouraging news: the survival rate for her condition was poor.
The breast lump and cancerous lymph nodes could be removed but she wasnt convinced
that radiation and chemotherapy would be enough to halt the aggressive stage-3 cancer.
Evans decided in early 1990 to have a bone marrow transplant done, which includes
undergoing very high doses of chemotherapy and radiation, which by itself carries
|Laura was in isolation
for 7 weeks while undergoing chemotherapy
She had a serious allergic reaction to one of the drugs during
preliminary chemo treatments and temporarily developed extremely painful rheumatoid
arthritis. During the seven weeks of chemotherapy she remained in sterile isolation to
protect her while her immune system was suppressed. Afterward, her bone marrow was given
back to her and she received two months of radiation before she was able to return home.
Laura Evans, an athletic and beautiful woman had lost her hair, eyebrows, fingernails,
toenails, her sense of taste, some of her memory, and nearly her life. But she hadnt
lost her spirit and determination to live.
Or to climb again.
While she was in isolation Evans developed an intriguing,
"on-the-edge" idea. What if a group of women all breast cancer survivors
were to form their own expedition and climb some big monster mountain? Prove
to themselves and to the world that breast cancer can be beaten, that being
diagnosed with breast cancer isnt the end of the world, and that you can even go on
to achieve things that you might have thought impossible. Beat cancer, beat fear, beat
ITS A LONG AND WINDING ROAD
step at a time. Literally. When she got out of the hospital she could walk only a few
blocks, but her vision of standing on mountain tops kept her going. Evans focus
became eating, thinking, and sleeping wellness. "I dont think you can get well
or stay well without a positive attitude," she says. It took two years of hard
physical and mental work, but in June of 1992 she and Roger climbed Mt. Rainier. And that
was just a test to see if she was ready for the Real Thing. The mountain that she had her
sights set on was in Africa, a mountain she had been ready to climb in 1989 when she was
diagnosed. Four months later she stood on top of the majestic, 19,340 foot Mt.
Aconcagua is the third highest peak in the world.
Her triumph on Kilimanjaro would team her with Lou
Whittakers son, Peter, who had organized and led the African ascent. With
Whittakers partnership, Laura Evans "on-the-edge" idea became an
incredible adventure and began to take shape - and in January of 1995 culminated in an
unprecedented achievement. Named Expedition Inspiration, Evans and Whittaker led 17
women, all breast cancer survivors, to the top of Argentinas Mt. Aconcagua. At
22,841 feet it is the worlds third highest peak and the tallest mountain in the
Based on the success of this climb, Expedition Inspiration continues
to offer mountain climbing opportunities for breast cancer survivors and supporters, as
well as hikes, special events, speeches and other fund and awareness raising activities.
NOT SATISIFED to just change the
lives of her fellow climbers, Laura Evans knew that possibly an even greater contribution
lay in helping find a cure. All too often cancer researchers work in relative isolation,
without the expectation or opportunity to collaborate with other scientists working toward
the same goal. Good ideas or promising research directions are pursued privately rather
than shared, but Evans believed there was a better way to find the answers that have
eluded breast cancer researchers. In March of 1996 she hosted the first annual Expedition
Inspiration Breast Cancer Symposium in Sun Valley, Idaho. Every year now, leading cancer
researchers from across the U.S. come specifically to brainstorm with one another and
"Collaborative sharing of information like this is
unprecedented," Evans says, "and there is no forum like this anywhere else. It
is phenomenal to sit and listen to them say, "
have you tried
have you tried that
well, what if you did
" The whole idea is to get them to go back to their
laboratories and look at their research differently
and that is exactly what is
March 2-5, 2000 marked the 4th annual Expedition
Inspiration Breast Cancer Symposium. A specific topic within the field of breast cancer is
chosen with past topics including Molecular Based Therapy of Breast Cancer, The
Genetics of Breast Cancer, and this years topic, Lymph Nodes and Immunity.
Evans believes that serious progress is being made and is thrilled
with what has been learned to this point about the mechanisms of breast cancer. She also
knows that a huge amount still needs to be learned.
CLIMB OF MY LIFE is the name of Laura Evans
book written in 1996 about her battle with breast cancer and the summiting of Mt.
Aconcagua. She has faced uncommon challenges and triumphed over them with uncommon
strength and vision. Still, her challenges are not over. Evans was diagnosed with brain
cancer in November of 1999. "Im going to beat it," she told me,
but I plan on being around for a long time to come."
What lessons and truths has this difficult journey imparted to her
that she would like to pass on?
"(Ive learned) how important it is to really evaluate
your own life
to pay attention to whats going on in your own head, and to know
that this is (your) life
and make conscious decisions about how you want to live
Evans continues, "There is a lot of focus on TV, in
about being skinny and rich. I dont think those are that important.
Its much more important for us to be good, honest people that try to help others and
live the best life we can. Thats where you get your satisfaction ultimately."
Laura says that she has a favorite quote hanging over the desk in
her office at home. When I received her book in the mail wrapped in an Expedition
Inspiration mailer, there were the same words again: "Never doubt that a small
group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever
|Mt. Whitney at
Expedition Inspiration will have a group climbing to the
summit of Californias Mt. Whitney at the end of August this year and Evans hopes to
be on it. I know that I wouldnt bet against her.
To learn more about Laura Evans and Expedition
Inspiration visit the website at: www.ExpeditionInspiration.org.
Her book is also available online at www.amazon.com.
Mark Reiman is the
co-founder and editor-in-chief of Incredible People Magazine. You can email him at: mark@IncrediblePeople.com