From the lowest low to the highest high my mother has taught me one final important lesson with her death: life doesn’t wait.
Two years ago I spent a month at my mother’s bedside watching her slowly succumb to a terrible disease: metastatic breast cancer. These were by far the hardest and darkest days of my life. As I lay by her side one thought came back to mind over and over and over… that it wasn’t right because we had made plans. We had made many plans over the years that we never saw through. We were going to go camping in Hawaii, we were going to spend her 60th birthday in Tahoe, she was going to visit Boston in the Fall, she wanted to do so many things… but life doesn’t wait.
My mom, Jane, passed away in July 2012 from breast cancer one month before her 60th birthday. My mom faced the disease twice, the second time after being cancer free for 8 years. She loved the outdoors and raised me and my brothers in the Tahoe area where she took us on countless hikes and camping trips. In 2013 I climbed Mt. Shasta for her, because I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her life than to climb to the top of one of the highest mountains in California in her name.
No tomorrow is promised to any of us, and as my mother died I promised myself that I would no longer put off the things I really wanted to do. I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish. Not a bucket list, a now list. Things that I had told myself I would do and just kept putting off to the next day, the next season, the next year. The year before my mother died I discovered the Breast Cancer Fund when I heard of their Climb Against the Odds fundraiser. I wanted to climb Mt. Shasta with this organization in honor of my mom’s survival, maybe even with her. Instead, I climbed it last year with tears gushing down my face in her memory. Check off #1 from my now list: climb a mountain worth climbing.
And so with her death my mom took me from the lowest low of my life to the highest peak: 14,159 ft. to be exact. Standing on top of Mt. Shasta in 2013 was cathartic. The Breast Cancer Fund gave me more than a neat experience, they dragged me out of the darkest period of my life and showed me how bright life can be again through the solidarity of the 30 other people that climbed with me that day, people with stories just like mine. I can’t thank this organization enough for that experience. They really are more than a non-profit organization; they are a support family, one that I am very happy to have found.
This experience also brought me to realize a second item on my now list: be more involved with a non-profit I believe in. I’m extremely proud to be supporting this organization in the first annual mountain climb on the east coast: Peaks for Prevention. Together with more than 60 hikers I will summit Mt. Washington this September 5th. Mt. Washington is the tallest peak on the east coast coming in at 6,288 ft. All the climbers have stories like mine – they have or know someone who has faced cancer. As a team leader on this climb I will welcome them to this family and help them find the strength and solidarity that I found in my climb.
Each member of this climb has committed to raise $628, symbolic of the height of the mountain. All funds raised go to the efforts of the Breast Cancer Fund to prevent breast cancer by fighting to remove toxic chemicals from our products and environment and raise awareness of environmental contributors to this disease. I truly believe in the mission of this organization and encourage you to visit their website to learn more about what they support and how you can reduce the risk of cancer in your life.
I am so grateful to everyone who supported my 2013 Mt. Shasta climb and hope that you are able to support this new endeavor. To donate to my climb please visit http://prevention.breastcancerfund.org/goto/kmwinchell. Please forward my story to anyone you think may be interested in donating or climbing with us!