Determination took one cancer patient from a hospital bed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and inspired others — including her doctor — to join her.
When Lila Javan was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2010, she started chemotherapy, got a stem cell transplant from her sister and eventually regained her health. Then, nearly five years later as she was planning to book a climbing trip to Africa, she went to a routine checkup and learned her cancer had returned.
"At first, [Mt. Kilimanjaro] didn't have much significance," Javan, a 39-year–old filmmaker, said. "I wanted to visit that part of Africa. When I started going through the treatment, it became so much more. It represented my cancer diagnosis."
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A friend made a poster of Kilimanjaro through a window and put it up in her hospital room. Climbing Kilimanjaro became a goal, and Javan wanted the doctor who’d helped her fight cancer to climb too.
"She said, 'Will you do this with me?' and I said, 'Absolutely,' because there was all this hope and looking to the future,” Dr. Sarah Larson, an oncologist at UCLA Medical Center, told NBC4. “I said yes, and I walked out of that room and I thought, 'What did i just do?'"
As Javan’s health improved the women began to train, and others soon joined them. A 14-person team of nurses and friends together raised more than $100,000 dollars for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.
"It kind of, not to be cheesy, but it renewed my faith in humanity," Javan said. "The love and support I got back from people just was amazing, and it's what got me through."
Two years later the team made it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain.
"I kept putting one foot in front of the other,” Javan said. “We got to the top and the sun was rising, and I saw Sarah and I started to cry. It was the most unbelievable, amazing moment of my life. The fact that we'd all trained togetherand we're doing this not just for ourselves but for something else made it more significant.”
Javan and her climbing cohort have inspired others to raise money for cancer research through a campaign called Climb2Cure. She is turning her journey into a documentary film and already has her sights set on a new climb: Mount Everest.
Click here to learn more about Javan’s journey or join your own Climb2Cure team.