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Two Elekta employees share Mt. Everest Base Camp climb to support Radiating Hope

This article is a follow up to a March 21 Wavelength interview with Ashley about a month before the Mt. Everest trip and includes comments from Greg, and Elekta colleague, who was also part of the Everest Base Camp expedition.

Greg Telesco and Ashley Cogswell – Elekta Oncology Informatics Specialists – were part of a Radiating Hope (www.radiatinghope.org) group that hiked to the base camp of Mt. Everest in Nepal in April to benefit the country’s Katmandu Cancer Center. Radiating Hope is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing radiation oncology equipment to areas of the world that presently have little or no access to cancer treatment. Collectively, Ashley and Greg raised $30,900 in pledges, of the $107,000 in total proceeds raised by 70 participants. The funds will be used to improve Kathmandu Cancer Center’s high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy program by defraying the cost of HDR systems and through cancer center renovations. The Everest Base Camp hike followed a 2016 Radiating Hope expedition by both Greg and Ashley to the summit of Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro.

WL: How was the Everest Base Camp expedition as a whole and how did it compare with the Mt. Kilimanjaro hike?

Greg: Compared to Mt. Kilimanjaro, the actual altitude was about 2,000 feet lower than the Mt. Everest Base Camp but with the Everest hike we were in a higher altitude environment for longer and we had to contend with some weather as we made the ascent to the base camp. In addition to the altitude there were some GI problems and viruses circulating in our group, as well as a general lack of protein in our diet, that make it pretty challenging. Despite that, it was very gratifying to see that 100 percent of the trekkers made it to the base camp.

It was an absolute pleasure to meet Dr. Sapkota and Dr. Pandit. Very excited to see the work that they accomplish in the years to come!

Ashley: It was definitely more physically challenging than the Mt. Kilimanjaro expedition. The hike itself took twice as long and the elevation above sea level [17,600 ft.] contributed to some altitude sickness to varying degrees for everyone involved. The challenge of hiking uphill for seven days – from April 11 to April 23 – and the cumulative effects of the thinning atmosphere as you went combined to create some exhaustion and fatigue that made me identify with how individuals with cancer might feel as a result of their disease and the impact of their treatment on their bodies and their spirits. That said, you always kept in the front of your mind that you and your climbing partners are doing this for a reason and that any discomfort you’re feeling, for the relatively short time you’re experiencing it, pales in comparison to what people with cancer have to deal with, especially those in countries like Nepal who may get palliative treatment at best, or at worst no treatment at all.

WL: What impact will the donated funds from Radiating Hope have for the Kathmandu Cancer Center and the people of Nepal?

Ashley: Nepal has just four operational radiation machines in a country with a population of about 28 million people. Obviously, this represents a critically bad ratio of cancer treatment technology to inhabitants. In a single acquisition of HDR machines – to treat indications like cervical cancer – Kathmandu Cancer Center would double the country’s capacity to treat people.

Greg: The money can also be used to repair building damage from the earthquake in Nepal a couple of years ago or by continuing the renovation of the cancer center’s third floor. These steps will help Kathmandu Cancer Center increase its patient volume and expand cancer care services.

WL: How would you persuade others to join Radiating Hope in its efforts?

Greg and Larry Daugherty, Director of Radiation Oncology at Alaska Cancer Treatment Center

Greg: Anyone who has done one of these expeditions will tell you it is one of the most rewarding and challenging things they’ve ever done. For me, it was a transformative experience, and it’s more than getting to the top of a mountain. It’s the relationships, the people along the way, the porters, the Sherpas that help carry your gear – the Sherpas are always smiling, always happy and always supportive and encouraging. It’s very inspiring to be around people like that.

Then there’s the camaraderie of the people you climb with, the friendships that you make. But overall, it’s seeing firsthand how your contributions affect the survival of cancer patients in all these various countries where curable cancer is a death sentence. It means a lot more than just climbing a mountain. And I have to say, it wasn’t that way initially for me. At first it was just checking off a bucket list item; my reasons were selfish, but I’ve learned over these past couple of expeditions that that’s the last thing it’s about. That’s not what makes this whole experience meaningful – it’s what it means to other people that makes a difference. And even if you can’t make the climb or you don’t want to do the climb, 100 percent of the proceeds goes to the beneficiary that Radiating Hope designates. It’s really gratifying to give back that way.

You don’t walk away from something like this without it affecting you and changing you in a lot of different ways.

Ashley: As employees of a cancer management company, these Radiating Hope expeditions reflect our corporate mission, which is to improve, prolong and save patient lives. In the countries that Radiating Hope has helped – like Senegal, Tanzania, Ukraine and Honduras – the degree of need is far more intense than in the developed world. Even small acquisitions of technology can make a tremendous difference – look at Nepal for example – just four brachytherapy afterloaders will double the country’s ability to treat patients. By participating in Radiating Hope climbs or supporting the organization in other ways, you become part of something bigger than yourself and you realize then even individual contributions can make a profound impact.

Editor’s note: Ashley and Greg say they haven’t made any firm plans yet, but it’s their intention to join Radiating Hope for a Fall 2018 climb in Patagonia, in southern South America.