We Choose to Climb

Not even a recurrence of cancer can stop Houston's Super Seven in their quest to climb Kilimanjaro

Not even a recurrence of cancer can stop Houston's Super Seven in their quest to climb Kilimanjaro

Editor's Note: In September, Houston fitness specialist Shana Ross will lead a group of seven Houston women, all of whom faced or are facing serious health challenges in their lives, to Tanzania, where they plan climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  She is writing about the experience for CultureMap. This is the third installment.

A little over two weeks ago, Becky Pope learned that her ovarian cancer had recurred for a second time since she was first diagnosed in 2009. Becky, her partner Pam and all of the Kilimanjaro climbers were shocked. We gathered in my studio that night and surrounded Becky with our love and support — and then we did a workout.

The following is the note I wrote that evening before going to bed. It’s not a polished article and it’s not a chronicle of how we’ve prepared for the climb, which is the next installment I had promised. But this is the way the story is unfolding, and we all feel that it’s important to be honest and communicate our journey in real time. We ask all of our Culture Map readers to keep Becky in your thoughts.


"Bad news: Cancer back" the text read at 1:26 today. I stared at my phone in disbelief. My client, friend and inspiration for Project Kilimanjaro, Becky Pope, had her check-up today. I told her to let me know as soon as she knew something  — fully expecting to hear that all was well. I was not expecting the words I was reading.

Since 2009, when she was first diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer, Becky has now had two recurrences. She also lost her mom earlier this year and recently suffered a stress fracture in her foot which prohibited her from training with the Kili climb team for a month. Last night, I was so happy that she and I got to do a workout. Becky worked in her boots on the treadmill at an incline with no pain, no discomfort. It was great to see the smile on her face.

And now this. Yes, I'm pissed. I'm sad. I'm confused. I'm asking why — which of course is completely counterproductive, but altogether human, I guess. So — I had my cry and responded to Becky's text by asking if I could visit with her later in the day. I met her and her partner Pam at their house this afternoon.

After a few more brief tears, we sat down and she shared with me what's next.

The scans showed spots on her liver near the same area of the last recurrence, which was treated with chemotherapy that had successfully erased all signs of the cancer. Now, surgery to remove the spots from the liver as well as some of the surrounding lymph nodes is the recommended course of action. And Becky will go into surgery the week after we return from Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Yes, she is still going and still climbing! She says the idea that her trek to the mountain has come to an end never entered her mind for one second. She says that today's news only strengthens her resolve to climb.

I asked if there was anything I could do at the moment? She replied, "No, I've got to process for a bit, grieve the news and then refocus. We've got a mission to accomplish and I've got to get in the best shape I can so that I can come back fast from my surgery and get on with it."

She says Machu Picchu is next! Holy crap!

I'm not sure what else to write at the moment. How is it that my friend who was just told her cancer is back ends up making me feel better? How can I become that strong? I hope and pray that the answers will come through the next few months. Especially in the next 30 something days as we prepare to start our climb on Sept. 12. I pray that I can be as strong for her as she's being for everyone around her.

So my friends, please keep us all close. Tell the special people in your life how much they mean to you. In a world that seems to be turning upside down at the moment, don't lose sight of what's important  — and if you do — maybe come back and read this. I know I will. Life changed a little today. We never know when that's going to happen. So "Live Like You Mean It." Peace.

Visit the Project Kilimanjaro website to read about the amazing women who are part of the endeavor.

See the Channel 13 report on Houston's Super Seven and their quest to climb Kilimanjaro:


News_Project Kilimanjaro_Becky_Working Hard
Becky, working out hard for the trip even though her cancer has returned.
Mount Kilimanjaro
Becky will go into surgery the week after we return from Mt. Kilimanjaro. And yes, she is still going and still climbing!
News_Project Kilimangaro_group shot
Venita Ray, from left, Sheri Dawson, Jackie Doval, Becky Pope, Pam Hilmes and Deb Sanders with Shana Ross (kneeling)
Becky says Machu Picchu is next! Holy crap! Photo via Wallpaper Pimper
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