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Volume V Issue XXXVII

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Seattle Washington USA


LAURA EVANS: THE CLIMB OF HER LIFE
by MarkReiman

laura_evans_head.jpg (7018 bytes)ONE STEP AT A TIME…When you are three miles above sea level on a mountain’s glacial sea of snow and ice, that’s 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.

Laura 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 the other.

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 state’s 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 mountain climbing."

"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…it was 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. "I’ve always been adventurous. I don’t think age has been an issue for me. I’ve always wanted to be out on the edge a little bit and have the adrenaline going." In the next few years it wouldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 considerable risk.

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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 hadn’t 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 isn’t 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 self-imposed limitations.

IT’S A LONG AND WINDING ROAD…One 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 don’t 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. Kilimanjaro.

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Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua is the third highest peak in the world.

Her triumph on Kilimanjaro would team her with Lou Whittaker’s son, Peter, who had organized and led the African ascent. With Whittaker’s 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 Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua. At 22,841 feet it is the world’s third highest peak and the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.

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 share ideas.

"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 ‘this’…have you tried ‘that’…well, what if you did ‘this’…" 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 happening."

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 year’s 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.

laura_book_cover.jpg (11038 bytes)THE 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. "I’m going to beat it," she told me, "…it’s hard…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?

"(I’ve learned) how important it is to really evaluate your own life…to pay attention to what’s going on in your own head, and to know that this is (your) life…and make conscious decisions about how you want to live it."

Evans continues, "There is a lot of focus on TV, in magazines…about being skinny and rich. I don’t think those are that important. It’s much more important for us to be good, honest people that try to help others and live the best life we can. That’s 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 has."

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Mt. Whitney at 14,495 feet

Expedition Inspiration will have a group climbing to the summit of California’s Mt. Whitney at the end of August this year and Evans hopes to be on it. I know that I wouldn’t 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(staff).jpg (11747 bytes)Mark Reiman is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Incredible People Magazine. You can email him at: mark@IncrediblePeople.com

 

  

Hope      Courage     Determination      Compassion
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