Climb Every Mountain

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JANUARY 09, 2018

This entry is about dreams and living big and advances in cancer medicine--all neatly combined in an essay from The New York Times. The specifics are a man with a three year history of Stage IV lung cancer continuing to climb mountains. Absolutely remarkable.

And it gives me a perfect segue to talk about dreams and pushing envelopes and living in technicolor. Any of us who have been through, or are still in the middle of, cancer know about all these things. No more are we willing to delay our dreams or settle for less or take one single day for granted. I honestly think a true danger of long term survivorship is the ease of returning to a pre-cancer state of denial and just going along. We have learned that life is finite, and we never know what is coming around the corner, and it is a big and beautiful and wonderful world, and our choice should be to live it as much as we possibly can.

There is also a danger in the self-imposed pressure to make the most of everyday and live it as though it might be your last. No one can do that. It is perfectly okay to have times of routine, but we can't ever lose sight of the possibilities and the critical importance of following our hearts and our dreams. You know all the old cliches about no one every regretting not spending more time at the office (or painting the basement or cleaning out closets). 

Yesterday I mentioned that I am about to be away for 16 days, about as far off the grid as one can go. We are leaving Thursday to fly Boston-Miami-Buenos Aires, spend a few days there, and head to a city at the very southern tip of Argentina to board a ship bound for Antarctica. Why? Because we have been so fortunate to have been all over the world and wanted something entirely different. Because the pictures of the ice are other worldly beautiful. And because I read an article in which a traveler returned from there and said: "Now I believe in God."

Find your mountain:

When the Lung Cancer Patient Climbs Mountains


On Oct. 15 at 8 a.m., Andy Lindsay stood atop 21,247-foot Mera Peak in Nepal, a wildly improbable place for him to be both athletically and medically. Andy, a veteran climber and a friend of mine, had been living with Stage IV lung cancer for three years. “To live one year was statistically unlikely, and two years looked like a miracle,” he said. He was able to make the climb thanks to the success of a cutting-edge gene therapy clinical trial. It targeted his specific lung cancer mutation, shutting off the fuel to his tumor’s growth and shrinking the tumor. He wasn’t cured, but his scans were strikingly improved and he was almost symptom-free. The trip illustrates a shifting landscape both for oncologists and cancer patients exploring a return to active lifestyles.

Dr. Tomas Neilan, the director of the cardio-oncology program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and part of Andy’s medical team, said the recent success of these gene therapy treatments alters the way specialists like him view and treat advanced cancer patients. “They’re taking Stage IV cancer and turning it into a chronic disease no different than high blood pressure,” he said. Andy, 61, of Ipswich, Mass., had a window of good health, a honeymoon of indeterminate time during which he could resume the activities he loved. He played in his coffeehouse band, traveled and took long bike rides up the coast. He also accepted a friend’s invitation to climb in Nepal.

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