We like to tell all our trekkers that with enough determination, and the will to push themselves harder than they ever thought possible, almost anyone can achieve the goal of summiting Kili. But even we were impressed with the resolve of one recent group of trekkers. They won’t be traveling to Tanzania any time soon, but they will have a chance to conquer Kilimanjaro.
At Living Well Oncology, based in Maine, the goal isn’t just to survive cancer, according to Elisa Fraser, the physical therapist in charge of the program; it’s to “’beat cancer’ by enjoying every moment.”
In order to help people live their lives to the fullest and keep their bodies healthy, she’s set up a “virtual walks” program in which participants “visit” places all over the world. Month by month, they log their miles, and Elisa tracks their progress on maps she sets up in the office, so they can see how far they’ve made it along their journey.
In the past, the group has walked across America (each participant got to choose a place to “stop” along the way), hiked through Europe, and trekked the entire Appalachian Trail. Throughout the treks, patients experience the places they’re virtually visiting via pictures, maps, and learning materials. These not only help them connect to the destinations, but also help with a condition called “chemo brain,” in which short term memory is reduced during chemotherapy (the challenge of learning new things can help fight this effect).
Patients in Elisa’s Live Well walking program have set their sights on a new goal: Uhuru Peak!
Patients track progress, set goals, and ask questions, and for many of them, the walks not only help them stay healthier and active, they build a caring community.
So when Elisa reached out to Kilimanjaro program manager Katie Cella, she was only too happy to send along route maps, Thomson gear, and informative literature to help her set up her next challenge for her patients: trekking to the top of Kilimanjaro, without ever leaving Maine!
Elisa’s poster on Kilimanjaro showing patients images of the mountain, routes to the top, and some fun facts about their chosen destination.
Patients have already begun tracking their progress up the mountain, and each day challenge themselves to learn a new Swahili word. Elisa has even been coordinating with Live Well’s Nordic Walking Instructor to set up some gentle trail hiking in the nearby mountains (bringing the experience of Kili even more to life!).
One patient, Walter, told us the experience with Live Well has been truly life-changing. After a brush with melanoma in 1995, Walter is lucky to have stayed cancer-free for almost 20 years. He originally joined the group in order to help him lose weight, and while he says that goal “is still important…the social aspect of the program has taken over” for him.
Walter and other Live Well members have been diligently tracking their progress up the mountain. When he reaches Uhuru Peak, he has a special celebration planned to celebrate an extremely special individual: “I plan to build a snow woman,” Walter says, “and I’ll call her ‘Elisa.’”