‘Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was a challenge that I’ll never forget’
Dawn Brocklesby Kilimanjaro cancer

After witnessing the breast cancer deaths of her sister and a friend, Dawn Brocklesby felt inspired to take constructive action. She chose to climb Mount Kilimanjaro despite having breast cancer herself.
To demonstrate that there is life after cancer, Dawn Brocklesby made the decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with Macmillan Cancer Support.
Although I’ve always had a strong sense of adventure, I had never considered climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. After a two-year battle with breast cancer, I wasn’t in the best of physical shape and was in remission. However, after watching my sister and a close friend pass away from the illness, I was inspired to take good action for myself and to demonstrate to others that there is life after cancer.

In terms of training, I didn’t do anything. Every day I took the dog up the hill near my house. I was supposed to have a walking vacation in the French Alps, but due to unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to go. Of course, even a trip to the Alps cannot adequately prepare you for the altitude.

When I realized I had forgotten my walking boots at home, the trip got off to a horrible start. I had to exit the highway, which meant I was late for my journey to London. I purchased a new one in Manchester, but when I got to Heathrow, my luggage was gone.

I wished for the carousel to come while I sat there feeling ill. I went to the counter for lost baggage, but they were unable to find anything. Before I learned that my suitcase had turned up in a different terminal, tears started to spring up in my eyes. I had plenty of time to get on the plane.

My seat was upright when I slept off just before takeoff, and I awoke feeling crippled. Every bone in my body was aching before I had even begun the adventure.

We took a minibus to Kilimanjaro the following morning. The mountain was magnificent in the sunshine, with what I assumed to be snow on top. It protruded far above the clouds and appeared much larger than in images.

The entire ascent took seven days. It was quite difficult. Every stride I saw other people take while suffering from altitude sickness made me remember my own chemotherapy treatment. Each step required a battle. The water in my bottle froze because it was so chilly. I started having delusions. I can still picture a swimming pool with steam rising from the water’s surface. If I could just get in there and warm up, I thought. However, there was no swimming pool there because we were on a 45-degree slope. Then I spotted a couple Alpine cottages with blazing fireplaces and red-checkered curtains. It was so chilly that we could only stop for a few minutes at a time.

The guide had to kick one individual to wake him up after he dozed off.

When we were getting close to the top, we hiked during the day, rested for a while, and then ascended at night when it was easier to climb due to the frozen volcanic dust. We were all exhausted and shivering at that height. I kept telling myself that when the sun rose, I would be warm. It was really challenging to do things like inflate an air mattress. I eventually abandoned my and slept on some rocks. We had to restart, and all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. My boots were disintegrating at this point.

One sole was loose and the other was hanging by a thread despite the fact that they had been taped together. The unfortunate man had diarrhoea. He had to leave the line while we were moving in order for him to get his act together before continuing. We were totally absorbed in our work.

From Stella Point, I was blessed with the most stunning sunrise, following which I went along the crater rim to Uhuru Peak, which is located at a height of 5,985 metres. I couldn’t be bothered to snap a picture because I was so exhausted. Fortunately, our guides encouraged us to stand in front of the sign and snap a picture for historical records.

Standing there amongst others who had all made the journey for various reasons made me feel quite humbled. I’ll never forget that as long as I live because it was such a great challenge. I’m overjoyed to have made it to the top; the important things in life are the breath-taking moments.

My outlook on many things has changed as a result of the cancer. I feel like I can accomplish anything I set my mind to after overcoming it and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

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