Climbing Mt. Fuji Each symbolizes spiritual journey of fight against breast cancer
According to many guide books, the most popular objective of climbing Mt. Fuji – Japan’s highest peak at 12,389 feet – is to glimpse the sunrise, or goraiko, at the summit. Goraiko originates from a religious term denoting “seeing the Buddha,” but now refers to the sunrise seen from the top of the mountain.
For four local women climbing Mt. Fuji as members of the Breast Cancer Fund’s Truckee-Tahoe Climb Against the Odd’s 2000 team in August, the journey to the summit symbolizes their fight against breast cancer and dedication to prevention, awareness and early detection of the disease. And for each woman – Laurie Martin, Lois Fletcher, Windy Smith and Janet Brady – the experience will be a spiritual journey as well.
On Aug. 18, the women will join 46 other Americans and 150 Japanese breast cancer patients and advocates, physicians, scientists and government officials. The expedition is the third major mountain the Breast Cancer Fund has set out to climb, and is one of the organization’s major fund-raisers devoted to increasing awareness of breast cancer research.
According to the Breast Cancer Fund, climbing is a metaphor for how women can confront breast cancer – one step at a time with the support of friends and family, drawing upon the courage to face their worst fears.
“We climb mountains to demonstrate our determination to end breast cancer and all the pain it is causing so many,” said Breast Cancer Fund organizers. “We climb to raise awareness, funding and hope. Even though climbing is a risky undertaking, it is one that we choose. Breast cancer gave us no choice. Climbing also gives us a joyful way to express the strength we have found in working against the disease.”
For Laurie Martin, getting cancer is a journey in itself. When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she asked herself, “Why did I get cancer and what can I do about it?”
“That’s where the spiritual piece begins to emerge for me,” she said. “It’s not just about you’re physical health when your diagnosed, it’s all parts of your life. For me, it was seeing the journey as an opportunity to bring balance into my life. Since my diagnosis, I’ve had a lot of faith that I’d get better and get stronger, but I ask myself, ‘what can I get out of this.'”
Martin completed her radiation treatment on March 13, and is now focused on being proactive with her own health and wellness and preparing for the Mt. Fuji climb.
“To do this journey to the top of the mountain is to set aside the pressures and stresses of daily life and focus on myself and the mountain and the inspiration that that gives me,” Martin said. “It’s about shedding all of that other stuff and getting to that sense of balance.”
Windy Smith lost her aunt, Phyllis Heiderman, to breast cancer three years ago. Her aunt, who died at the age of 53, was a very close and influential person in her life. The journey up the mountain is for her aunt and her entire family who still mourn her aunt’s death, as well as for all breast cancer survivors and victims.
“It’s the family component for me,” she explained. “Our family is still so devastated by the whole experience.”
Her aunt was like her surrogate mother, she said, and was a very inspirational woman.
“When she was going through her treatment, she’s the one who kept the family together,” she said.
The journey to the top of the mountain and all it means, just recently hit Smith as she began training more intensely for the climb.
“It really hasn’t quite hit me until the last couple of weeks,” she said. “I just can’t even imagine the emotion and energy of all these women with different backgrounds from all over the world coming together for this common cause. I think it’s just incredible … I’ve been thinking how amazing it is that each step we take is for hundreds of thousands of women. We’re going to conquer this and people have to start listening.”
For Lois Fletcher and her daughter Janet Brady, summiting Mt. Fuji is about the inspiration shared between a mother and daughter.
Fletcher, 68, was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago and is a breast cancer survivor. Brady has been surrounded by the disease all her life: her aunt was diagnosed with it at an early age, her grandmother died from it and her mother is a recent survivor.
Fletcher joined the climbing team with Janet’s encouragement, and has achieved more in the past few months than she ever thought she would.
“I had never tried as much before, and I’m learning you can achieve these things even when you’re 68 years old,” Fletcher said. “I’m just going to give it my 100 percent all, I’ll go as far as the Lord takes me. My goal, though, is certainly to get to the top.”
Since her training began, she finished her first 10k race and relearned how to ride a bicycle. She has been going to the Incline Village Recreation Center for regular workouts and has been working out on the treadmill, lifting weights and will begin hiking as the snow melts from trails.
She said she’s feeling healthy, and that’s the important thing. “Your body is the temple of the Lord,” she said, quoting the Bible.
“Janet watches what I eat when we’re together and I report to her about my workouts,” Fletcher said, laughing.
Brady said the climb is an opportunity to be with her family – her mother, her two boys, and husband – as well as an opportunity to spiritually reconnect with everything a busy lifestyle can steal away.
“In our busy world today, I am honored to have the opportunity to take a physical spiritual journey to Mt. Fuji and to break away from ‘life in the fast lane,'”she said.
“I am thrilled that my two songs, Maclane and Calvin will get to experience this amazing event with my husband, mother and I. So many children in our world do not grow up with an understanding or appreciation of all that they have. I pray that this climb, and all that it stands for, will have a lasting impression on Maclane and Calvin. Ever since the idea of this climb began developing for for my mother and I, I immediately had visions of how unbelievable it will be to raise our hands high and celebrate. I also know we will remember my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who we lost to breast cancer when I was only 12.”
In the Tibetan tradition, prayer flags fly from the housetops, trees and in mountain passes – wherever the wind can catch and carry their message of hope throughout the world. For centuries, Tibetan Buddhists have planted these flags – inscribed with auspicious symbols, invocations, prayers and mantras – outside of their homes and in places of spiritual practice for the wind to carry the vibrations across the countryside.
Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, long life and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity.
The Breast Cancer Fund adopted the tradition of prayer flags to call the world’s attention to the epidemic of breast cancer, create lasting hope for those living with the disease and to establish a memorial for those who have passed on.
The Truckee-Tahoe Mt. Fuji team will carry prayer flags for the Truckee-Tahoe community on their journey up the mountain. Flags are being sold locally and those interested can order a prayer flag to honor someone who has faced cancer. With a gift of $100, the name of the honoree will be inscribed on a brilliantly colored flag.
“The prayer flags are a message of hope for all of us here, in this community, as well as for others,” Martin said.
She said that prayer flags are a huge part of the healing process and feeling connected with our ancestors who we have lost.
“I’ve lost many women in my life and I really feel their strength on this journey. I want to carry their spirit to the top of the mountain and celebrate all of their lives,” she said.
The prayer flags will be flown in every camp along the climb as well as on the summit, where the names on the flags will be read aloud to the wind.
The Truckee-Tahoe Mt. Fuji team has been working locally to raise funds for the climb with a series of events and corporate sponsors. Fifty percent of the funds raised will go directly toward local community breast cancer education, prevention, early detection and treatment support. The other portion of the funds raised supports the team in their climb as well as the Breast Caner Fund.
How to purchase prayer flags:
Prayer flags can be purchased from Tahoe Forest Hospital’s Health Promotions at the Community Wellness Center on Donner Pass Road. For information, call (530) 582-3583 or (800) 733-9953, ext. 3583.
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