A Mountain Climber Finally Walks Away From Breast Cancer
Hendy Dayton: "The cancer is really gone."(HENDY DAYTON)Your life as a breast cancer survivor may resemble the old you except for day-to-day adjustments such as taking better care of yourself or not pushing yourself at work as hard as you used to—or you could wake up to entirely new possibilities. "A lot of people discover aspects of themselves they didn't know existed," says Robin Hershkowitz, program director for women's cancers at CancerCare, a national nonprofit support services group based in New York City.
Hendy Dayton, 48, of San Francisco, was 14,410 feet in the air—at the summit of Mount Rainier in Washington state—when she felt her life finally shift away from cancer.
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It was 2005, a year-and-a-half after she'd finished chemo and radiation treatment, and the mother of three had joined 36 other breast cancer survivors on a mountain-climbing trip. She'd had some experience climbing, but this was by far her most challenging trek. The group was split in two, and on the day Dayton's group was to try for the summit, a bad storm whipped up.
"It's a dangerous mountain, and I'd been panicked," she recalls. Down below, the rest of her group was terrified for their fellow climbers. But somehow, in the midst of it all, Dayton felt inspired by the bonding and support of the group. She pushed herself onward, and was one of only three climbers (two of whom were breast cancer survivors) to make it to the peak.
Looking out from the mountaintop shortly after dawn, Dayton realized she had made it to more than one peak. "I realized if I can do this, I can do anything," she recalls. "The cancer is really gone. I felt so energized and excited about life."
Though she'll never be able to completely forget her cancer, Dayton has finally put it behind her. "I go to the doctor every three months, and he says, 'You're fine, you look great.' But it took me a year to believe him. I'd think, 'Oh, how can you be sure?' Now I think, why even go there? He says I'm fine. I feel fine. Embrace it. Celebrate it. It's great news. And go on from there."