During a girls’ night out, longtime friends, Deb and Emily decided to tick an item off their bucket lists and made a pact to summit Mount Kilimanjaro together. Over the course of the next year, they prepared and trained for their January 2013 trek with us. Emily was especially enthusiastic about the trek; she yearned to return to East Africa, where she spent her childhood and where her dreams of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro were born.
Unfortunately, only one of the women was able to climb Kilimanjaro. On December 20th, just two and half weeks before the start of their trek, life took an unpredictable turn of events – Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of boarding a plane for Tanzania, she was in the hospital recovering from a bilateral mastectomy. As the ever-positive Emily put it, “A greater power had me training for a different mountain.”
From her hospital bed, Emily cheered Deb on as she followed the daily trek schedule and vicariously climbed alongside her friend. Little did she know, Deb created a large cardboard cutout of her friend so that Emily, in one way or another, would trek Kilimanjaro. In a sincere and heartfelt display of friendship, Deb literally carried her friend up the mountain to bring Emily’s goal to fruition. Later, the friends dubbed the cardboard cutout “Flat Emily” after the popular children’s book, Flat Stanley.
Deb embraced the journey of carrying her cardboard companion by taking photos of “Flat Emily” everywhere: on the airplane, at the trailhead, in the sleeping tents, and with her Thomson Safaris porters. When Deb finally had Uhuru Peak in her sights, however, she became very emotional, “It affected me in a way that I did not expect. Our assistant guide, Abeli, asked if I was OK. I said that Emily was the one who should have been there, not me; she was the one who wanted it the most. He simply said, ‘It’s best to be quiet now,’ as he walked me to the summit.”
Upon returning from the Kilimanjaro, Deb compiled all of the images from her trek and surprised Emily with a photo album. On its pages, Emily could see that she (or her likeness, anyway) had, indeed, experienced every step of the trek alongside Deb. Emily was also touched to learn that everyone in Deb’s trekking group, including porters and guides, contributed to Emily’s dream and took a turn carrying “Flat Emily” up towards the summit.
Emily keeps the album Deb so thoughtfully created on her coffee table. She adds, “I was moved to tears. It was (and is) the most thoughtful, sacrificial gift I have ever received. I am humbled at the forethought and planning this amazing woman did to bless me through the valley.” She adds, “True friends will not only walk that extra mile for you but complete strangers become friends when they are willing to share the dream and carry the weight of a “Flat Emily” to the Roof of Africa.”
Since her treatment began, Emily’s bright spirit and strength have not wavered. She shares, “The last few months have been a roller coaster, I have spectacular days, followed by days that are an effort just to complete general tasks. ‘Chemo brain’ is the worst of it – thank God for spellcheck and my Garmin [GPS], otherwise I truly would be in a pickle! However, I’m now considering plans to trek Kilimanjaro for my 50th birthday, as long as there are no other lumps – pun intended – on the road to 2015.”