Of Avalanches and Mammograms

Happy Regatta Day,

Another week has sped by leaving me one week closer to Pumori: Climb for Awareness. Time always seems to speed up when I’m training because so much has to fit into each day. I lost two training days to a tooth extraction; the first because they recommend no intense physical activity to prevent excessive blood loss and the second because I didn’t quite feel up to training the second day post tooth loss.

So yes, after a month of fighting the good fight with varieties of antibiotics, my endodontist and I agreed that it was time to say enough was enough. Just as a mountaineer needs to know when to turn her or his back on the summit, we had to make the decision to sacrifice the tooth for my overall health. We’re hoping with the tooth gone, the infection that has been simmering near my jawbone can finally be healed. Thanks to all who cheered me on and up over the course of the last month of intense dental challenges.

It was also time for my annual mammogram. Since my mom’s diagnosis, I have been on annual mammograms even though I haven’t reached the usual age for that frequency of screening. No one likes to go through this boob squishing procedure but I’d like to encourage everyone who is of screening age or circumstance to get screened. I had a wonderful technician whose daughter had heard me speak last summer so we had a grand chat about mountaineering during the whole thing. I exchanged moments of discomfort for months of comfort in knowing that I’ve done my yearly mammography duty.

I liken having a mammogram to digging an avalanche pit on a mountain. When we are forced to traverse mountain terrain having the slope and aspect to create avalanche danger, we must pay close attention to the risk factors. We stop in a safe spot and dig a hole in the snow so we can examine the snow layers to judge how solid they are and how likely they are to slide. We perform various tests to see how the snow shears and what the snow crystals look like. Like a mammogram, it’s a drag to interrupt what we’re doing to dig the pit and face the risk squarely head on, but it gives us the information we need to continue. We may be able to remain on the same path, we may have to change routes, or we may have to retreat and come back some other day to climb.

To proceed in avalanche territory without the proper safety equipment, training, and testing, is foolhardy and will often end in tragedy. I think the same can be said about going through life without proper breast screening. Please walk through your fear and discomfort to get to know your breasts, to do monthly self-exams, and to get an annual mammogram if recommended by your doctor. Don’t let avalanches of doubt, fear, or shame get in your way. You can do it! For more information on breast cancer screening, here are two websites I found helpful:

Rethink Breast Cancer

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

I did another conference presentation this week to a group of agriculture educators from across Canada. I entitled my talk, “Growing Dreams,” and I enjoyed customizing my message to reflect the theme of their conference. I combed through my photographic images of Nepal and Tibet to find images of farming and animal husbandry.

When I biked the 1200 kilometres from Lkaha to Kathmandu during the fall of 2005, much of our route took us through harvest time on the Tibetan plateau. I shared the road with conveyances of all sorts including horse draw carts, frequently had to stop for cow and yak crossings, and at one point rode uphill for 38 kilometres before reaching the summit of Gyatso La Pass. It was on that trip, standing in Everest base camp on the Tibet side, that I wanted to climb Mount Everest. I wasn’t terrified about the climb at that point but rather, the fundraising. I had no idea how as a shy, phone-phobic, relatively private person, I was going to raise the $60,000 I needed to climb Mount Everest.

In the end, I raised half that amount using the only method I knew to use, grassroots fundraising. I sold toques and t-shirts, held speaking events, and reached out to kids. At some point, it got too hard to say to the children, “If the money comes, I’ll climb Everest” and made the decision that I would mortgage my house to make it happen. With that decision made, I could say to the kids, “When I climb Everest…” and that felt much better and worth the risk of taking on the big debt. With this week’s conference, I’ve now officially retired the expedition debt and can now think about beginning to raise funds for a second attempt.

Before turning my attention to that though, I am fully committed to my Pumori climb and the fundraising goal I’ve set for it. When I met Paula Tessier for coffee to discuss the possibility of fundraising for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, she pointed out my personal growth over the past three years.

“TA,” she said. “Do you realize that three years ago you were terrified of fundraising and now you are offering to fundraise for a cause without any personal benefit?”

I hadn’t really thought of it that way and thanked her for reflecting that growth back to me. Fundraising still scares me and I wish I felt more confident in doing it but as always, I just keep putting one foot in front of another and make the path by walking it. The downloadable form for donations should be on my website soon and the online link is now live. Thanks for your support on so many levels. I am so grateful to have you along on this and many other adventures.

Have a great week,


Online donation to Pumori: Climb for Awareness can be made by clicking here.

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