onward and upward

Image:   Reflections magazine    Originally published   i n  Reflections , 2012

Image: Reflections magazine
Originally published in Reflections, 2012


“We had an idea as to what it was going to be like. It turned out to be completely different.”

Up they went. Onward they moved. Up, up and up. At last, at 14,411 feet, they stopped. This was the moment. Time froze, for just a second, as they simply stared over the entire state.

Members Lisa Carlson and Nancy Cirillo are moms, first and foremost. Lisa has two teenage boys, and Nancy has three sons. They each share a passion for their careers, Nancy as the owner of Na La, a Seattle women’s activewear line, and Lisa as the current organizer behind Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.

And it was their third shared devotion that took them on a journey nearly three miles above city limits.

“I think that breast cancer affects so many people that we know. There’s rarely a person that doesn’t know someone or have a family member who’s been affected by breast cancer,” said Lisa.

“Two of my close friends had breast cancer, so this (cause) was an easy choice,” added Nancy.

The Hutchinson Center devotes its time to the newest cancer prevention breakthroughs, among many other programs. With an essential immunotherapy development two years ago, Fred Hutchinson is currently in the midst of a clinical trial using T-cells to battle the cancer, perhaps one of the most sophisticated centers in the country with these discoveries.

Climb to Fight was one program launched from humble beginnings in order to fund this research. In 1997, a group of people decided to climb Mount Adams and wanted to raise money along the way. One climb, one meager idea morphed into a movement, one donation back to the Hutchinson Center and a world of a difference.

Lisa has been running the program for five years. “All of the funds raised at this center goes directly into research. I like to be able to look at the dollars and know that they’re really making a difference,” she said. In 2011, more than a half million dollars was raised by about 80 climbers alone.

Lisa tries to participate in one climb per year, choosing from 13 options, and recruited Nancy this past August. Both women raised more than $5,000 each in a span of a couple months.

On Aug. 20, they started their journey up Mount Rainier. An average of 10,000 people attempt to summit this mountain every passing year. Of those, a little more than half are successful. Some have even tried a handful of times.

Lisa and Nancy are among those who have made it.

The two didn’t “step it up” until eight weeks prior to the climb, training on the stepmill, running stairs and attending Flex in the City classes at the Club. The petite women strapped on 40-pound packs and made their way up the mountain with six other climbers and four guides.

“It’s not incredibly arduous like you think it would be,” said Nancy. “It’s kind of long and monotonous, and there are sections that are like an hour and a half on the stepmill, but there’s so much more to it in terms of what makes it a challenge.”

The altitude and the route were two of the elements that made it mentally exhausting, but the ladies had a way of coping. “I pack everything in Ziplocs, and when I tend to get nervous, I start repacking and fluttering,” laughed Lisa. “It’s something I’ve never noticed before, but when I started to do it, I’d see Nancy looking over at me. That’s how my anxiety manifested itself!”

They had one more soothing trick. “Nancy and I each had a backpack of candy bars, so we were good,” added Lisa.

Although the size of the mountain appears intimidating, it’s not as impossible to summit as some might assume. “It’s not that daunting,” said Nancy. “It’s really attainable for anyone.”

Their climbing group was particularly lucky with exceptional conditions and timing. They were able to summit at sunset. “There’s a lot of people that aspire to and want that sunset climb, so I feel really blessed that we were able to do that,” said Lisa.

At 6:05 p.m. on Aug. 21, they stopped. This was the moment. Time froze, for just a second, as they simply stared over the entire state.

Both women shed tears as the sun set over Washington.

“It was beautiful, and then you kind of just want to get down,” laughed Nancy. “It pushes your capacity and your comfort limit in so many ways.”

“When we took our summit photo, I remember thinking, ‘savor this moment. You might never have another one like this,'” said Lisa.

The moment is unforgettable, as is the reason they embarked on the adventure. “Our greatest hope is that people are aware and get checked (for breast cancer),” said Lisa. “We really do feel like a cure is on the horizon.”

It’s much like the feeling of endless possibilities the two felt while standing in the cold, a glow of fading sunshine kissing the mountainside and possibilities written in the horizon. “The cure is there. We’re so close.”