Brave cancer survivors take on the daunting challenge of hiking to the Everest Base Camp.

Cape Town - There are many reasons people travel: to see and experience different cultures, to witness the great sights of our planet. But, occasionally, a journey is an affirmation of life, of survival.

Not many of us is able to do the near-impossible and climb Mount Everest, but getting a taste of one of life’s ultimate challenges is not impossible: so many people are undertaking the still daunting trek to the Everest Base Camp.

Earlier this year, a group of feisty women decided to head to the Himalayas to underline their strength in their fight against cancer.

Having “ticked off the proverbial list” surviving breast cancer while building a career and taking care of a family, you’d think Henrietta van Kramberg, Refilwe Sedumedi, Nqobile Mazibuko, Ntokozo Dludla and Soso Thamae would have had their fill of challenging themselves.

You’d be wrong.

Instead of just getting on with their lives after being given the “all clear”, they opted - each in their own way - to dispel the myths that exist around breast cancer and raise awareness for the disease.

In April, they got together to do something really special. United in their desire to do something extraordinary to celebrate their individual experiences and prove there is life after being diagnosed with breast cancer, they flew to Nepal to trek to the Everest Base Camp as part of the EBC 2016: One Step at a Time expedition, so called because, once diagnosed with cancer, a person lives his or her life one day at a time.

EBC is a term that is used to describe two base camps on opposite sides of Mount Everest. South Base Camp is in Nepal at an altitude of 5 364m, and North Base Camp is in Tibet at 5 150m.

EBC 2016: One Step at a Time went to South Camp.

The trek was organised by Streetschool Development Journeys (www.streetschool.co.za) and the Breast Health Foundation (www.mybreast.org.za), which works in a multi-disciplinary approach from grassroots level to reach out, educate, diagnose and offer definitive care to all suffering from the disease.

Streetschool Development Journeys specialises in personal development with a strong emphasis on individuals learning from personal experience. The most exciting part of its offering is the experiential journeys to the Tibetan exile community in Northern India and expeditions to Nepal.

Founder Klasie Wessels, who led the expedition, had nothing but praise for the five women, their bravery and resilience. “I’m no stranger to courage and determination; I see it regularly during the courses I run and the trips I lead to India and Nepal. But I have been inspired by that shown by these five fierce and passionate women,” he said.

Two of the five managed to complete the gruelling trek to EBC. The triumphant pair - Van Kramberg and Sedumedi - reached EBC on April 25 while a third, Mazibuko, came within sight of EBC before being forced to retire.

Here are their thoughts.

 

Henrietta van Kramberg

“I didn’t survive cancer, I kicked its - in my six inch heels.”

In October 2010 I was diagnosed with estrogen receptor non-invasive breast cancer at 37. Thanks to PinkDrive, lumps were detected early.

In February 2011, I underwent a mastectomy and then a rigorous course of chemotherapy nearly six months long. For the next five years I have to take an oral chemotherapy to prevent the disease from reoccurring - it’s been a tough journey but I have been kicking butt since day one and my message is that if I can do it, anyone can.

Oh, and Everest was just another butt to kick.

 

Soso Thamae

In 1987 I got lumps when I was 15 years old. The doctor said we should take them out and so they were removed. When I was 16, they redeveloped and my mother said you know, we should do this thing (mastectomy).

I think she was afraid because her aunt passed away because of breast cancer. At that time, I was thinking that I’m going to die because most of the people were saying when you are diagnosed with cancer that’s it. You are going to die.

When I was diagnosed, Dr Ben referred me to the Breast Health Foundation and I received overwhelming support that changed my mind. I wanted to live... and I knew I could live.

I believe that by doing the Everest Base Camp trek, I’ll be able to give hope to many and to encourage them that there is life after breast cancer, that they can do the illness.

 

Ntokozo Dludla

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, began treatment in 2009 and to be honest it was not an easy journey. They sat me down and said we’ve got bad news; I think that is where everything changed because the only thing I saw was my coffin.

The Breast Health Foundation, they helped me see that it was not me alone, that there are a lot of women going through what I’m going through.

 

Refilwe Sedumedi

I am a single mother of two, my prince Olebogeng, 15, and my princess Pontsho, nine. My life was just perfect until 2013 when I discovered a lump in my left breast.

I was scared to have it checked as I lost my mom in 2004 to a brain tumour. After mammograms and biopsies I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2013. I underwent my first operation where they removed the lymph nodes and then they had to remove the lump and did a reconstruction on both my breasts.

This was the most difficult hurdle to overcome, but my stubborn faith kept me going. My friends were there for me, my pastors, my church, my kids were all understanding, including my employers who were most patient and supportive with me.

Though it all came as a complete shock, I constantly asked God to guide me throughout my journey. My prayers conquered everything. In January 2014 I started with chemotherapy, which went on for almost seven months. That was my worst nightmare, just three weeks after my first chemotherapy I lost my hair, fighting the after effects. I lost weight, and my complexion changed.

In August 2014 I went for a mammogram and ultrasound before radiation and in an amazing turn of events my results came back negative. I am declared cancer free - a super survivor indeed.

In April 2016, I joined a group of breast cancer survivors in walking one step at a time to the Everest Base Camp. This is the ultimate showing of defiant triumph over cancer and for the ones fighting this silent killer and those who lost the battle along the way.

 

Nqobile Mazibuko

I am a mother of three as well as an entrepreneur responsible for 75 employees.

In October 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sitting in the doctor’s room being told that I was ill is possibly the most surreal moment of my life. From that moment on, an onslaught of treatment including chemotherapy began.

This was trying, to say the least. In November 2010 I had a mastectomy. Thereafter the chemotherapy began, which started the process of my recovery.

Living with cancer is like climbing a mountain - some days were up and some down. My cancer days were some of the best and worst times of my life, where I experienced both anguish and spiritual awakening.

In many ways I am grateful for the cancer as the experience taught me so many valuable life lessons and changed my outlook on life for the better.

After being told by my oncologist that stress is a major contributor to cancer I decided to take control of my own life by eradicating the things that made me unhappy or unfulfilled and only surround myself with positive people and energy. I make use of various stress-reducers such as exercising at the gym, yoga and meditation, which has now become a part of my way of life.

My wish post cancer has always been to stretch myself to the limit by doing what an ordinary person would not do. Being given a second chance in life means being of service others and lastly I have always been inspired by individuals who go against the odds in life. I did just that trekking to EBC in April 2016.

Weekend Argus