Life & Style

These cancer survivors are conquering mountains

Cancer warriors ahead of the trek at the Raithal Base Camp.

Cancer warriors ahead of the trek at the Raithal Base Camp. | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Three years ago, Swagathika Acharya was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer when she was pursuing law. At the Raithal base camp in Uttarakhand, the 24-year-old lawyer is triumphant about completing a four-day trek to the Dayara Bugyal.

“I did it! I want my actions to speak louder than words. Cancer is not the end of life; there’s life beyond cancer,” she says. Now in remission, she is one of the eight cancer survivors who scaled 11,830 feet as part of the “Peak to Peak — Winning over Cancer’‘ expedition organised by Apollo Cancer Centers in partnership with IndiaHikes.

While some members of the group completed their treatment last year, others completed it a few years ago. Aged between 24 and 71, the group was accompanied by two senior oncologists, two nurses, a communications team, photographers and videographers. Apollo’s team of oncologists selected participants who were moderately fit from across the country.

Amitava Dutt, 62, a finance consultant from Kolkata, decided to bring his wife along for support. “I had not stepped out for months, after completing treatment last year,” he says. His spirit has never been lacking and he says, “Even when I had to go for radiation, I undertook a 25-kilometre journey to the hospital in the car myself,” he declares, adding that although while the trek posed challenges, he was delighted that he was able to reach the summit on time.

A victory march to the summit

“When we finished trekking five kilometers on the first day, I wondered if we made a mistake by bringing cancer survivors on this expedition as I found the trek to be a little tough, and also developed altitude sickness,” says Sherin Nirmala Mary, (23) a nurse at the Apollo Proton, Chennai. “But I was impressed by how all of them supported each other, united in their goal and how, in spite of hardship, they marched towards the summit.”

Among those who impressed her was Archana Hosangadi, 50, who battled breast cancer in 2019. A banker from Bengaluru, she was devastated when diagnosed. “Least of my concerns was about losing my black, long lustrous hair, but eight cycles of chemotherapy totally threw me out of gear. I was high on fitness and used to be a table tennis player, yet cancer caught me,” she says, adding that though the trek was arduous, it was memorable. “I took it up as a challenge to prove to myself that I can do it,” she adds.

Dr Rani Bhat, gynecologist and oncologist from Apollo Cancer Hospitals, Bengaluru, says the participants displayed extraordinary courage over the course of the trek. “Cancer is curable when detected early, and today due to increased awareness and advanced treatments, we have a good number of people who have conquered this disease. Which is why the need of the hour is providing support for them. ”

Amid the golden oaks

The trekkers enjoyed eating wild Himalayan strawberries as they climbed, crossing rhododendrons, golden oaks, and walnut and apple trees. Priyanka Shukla, a 40-year-old from Chhattisgarh, underwent early-stage breast cancer treatment in 2016. She trekked with two power banks so her phone would not run out of charge. “I am addicted to Tik Tok and post a couple of videos daily,” she says.

Trekkers crossing the Gui village in Dayara Bugyal

Trekkers crossing the Gui village in Dayara Bugyal

Diagnosed in the early stages of breast cancer in 2016, Priyanka says she and her husband now work towards spreading the message of cancer awareness. “This trek is significant for me as I can tell women that I meet that all is well with me.”

The other side of the mountain

Shalini S (name changed), a 35 year-old IT employee from Mysore was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2021, a few months after she got engaged. “I called off my engagement, and underwent treatment for three months (surgery and radiation). Post the treatment, I ran for three to five kilometers daily and that gave me the confidence to trek,” she says.

Sushrut Karpe a 32-year-old who works as design head in an IT company in Pune, says he focuses on spreading positive messages. He was 26 when he was told that he was in stage two of colon cancer. “Even when undergoing chemotherapy, I would walk around the ward and talk to other patients, making them all laugh loud. I just had to put my life on hold for a while until the treatment was completed, and then get back to my usual routine. This trek further sends a positive message that cancer is not the end of life, but there is a beautiful life beyond that.”

The mindpower

Swetha Udadhyay, senior manager, Apollo Cancer Centers, Bangalore says she has seen many patients overcome cancer because of their mental strength, and this applies to trekking as well. “We chose Dayara Bugyal, as it was meant for beginners, its categories as easy and moderate, and most importantly the trekking route had easy exit points, in case of any emergency. We also had an ambulance stationed at the base camp.”

“Peak to peak winning over cancer, was a celebration for those who have survived, an inspiration for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of support for families, and an outreach to the community,” says Dinesh Madhavan, president, Apollo Cancer Centres.

Priyanka Shukla at the camping site of Dayara Bugyal

Priyanka Shukla at the camping site of Dayara Bugyal | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Deepak Danu, the trek leader who led the team along with four others, says the courage, endurance and confidence exhibited by all of the cancer conquerors was amazing. “This team is the classic example of how to prove the point that it is mental strength more than physical ability that is important for trekking in such mountain terrain. In fact it was the mind power of all of them that helped them reach the summit on day three,” he says

To keep spirits up, India Hikes curated a nutritious, interesting menu, including pastas, gulab jamun, fruit custards and pineapple sheera , all made at a 10,000-meters altitude.

The trekkers at the summit, 11, 830 meters altitude.

The trekkers at the summit, 11, 830 meters altitude. | Photo Credit: special arrangement

While Sherin is proud of all her charges, she says, “I was especially in awe of 71-year-old Kunal Kumar Das, who was treated for kidney cancer in 1995, trekking ahead of everyone, singing and cracking jokes. This was indeed a tremendous feat.”

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2022 3:31:09 pm |