Climbing For A Cause
Sitting in a bar after a charity ride in Austin, Texas, Dr. Matt King ’98 and his brothers came up with a crazy idea. Why not take cancer survivors to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
The King brothers had just ridden in The Livestrong Challenge. It was just one of several charity races in which they have participated over the years, but this time, they shared drinks and life stories with the founders of Movember, a grassroots effort to raise awareness about men’s health issues that has grown into a global movement. Their message of early cancer detection and adopting a healthy lifestyle is one that particularly resonates with Matt King ’98.
A general physician with a private practice on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, King knows all too well the toll that cancer takes on patients and their families. In just one month last winter, he had delivered bad news to six patients. Among his diagnoses: two new cases of lung cancer, a recurrent lung cancer with brain metastasis, ovarian and uterine cancers, melanoma, and renal cell carcinoma.
He knows the struggles they are up against, and he promises to help see them through. He directs them to top specialists in the area, urges them to fortify their bodies with good nutrition, and offers hope. For many, he says, a cancer diagnosis can be a new beginning, a physical and emotional reboot that leads to a full and active life.
It’s an uphill battle, but a fight that can be won. What better way to symbolize victory over chancer than to climb one of the world’s tallest mountains?
“My younger brother had interned with Livestrong Foundation, so the family got to know the inner workings of the organization, and he had met Chris Warner [an experienced alpine guide who founded Earth Treks] on Kilimanjaro. After that charity ride in Austin, we took inspiration from how much good Movember has done with such as simple concept as growing a mustache. We thought, ‘Hey, we’re pretty smart. Let’s put something together that symbolizes the physical and emotional journey of cancer patients. Why don’t we take cancer survivors to climb Kilimanjaro?”
In that moment, Survivor Summit was born. King and his brothers, along with a lifelong friend, established the nonprofit organization to benefit Livestrong Foundation, and between the first two expeditions on Mount Kilimanjaro they have raised $400,000. Among the 15 participants on the most recent trip in February were cancer survivors, caregivers, advocates, and Matt King, who on his inaugural summit carried a flag honoring several of his patients who are fighting cancer.
“One of our biggest motivators is to eliminate the stigma of being a cancer patient,” King says. “When you say the word ‘cancer’ you think of sickness and death. But the body, as well as the medical profession, can do some wondrous things. The idea is that that cancer doesn’t define you, that you can surmount it.”
The trip was worth all of the planning and physical training.
“For me personally, the experience was far more than I could have imagined. I was expecting to see some beautiful sights, but I was not prepared to be so emotionally overpowered by the bonding that happened between all of us on the journey. I was truly moved by the stories that were shared, and amazed at how quickly a group of strangers became such a cohesive unit that set and achieved a goal of everyone summiting together. This type of experience really puts things back into perspective and I’m already trying to figure out when I can go again!”