Another year and another birthday are things worth celebrating for cancer survivors in Cayman. That was the idea behind the latest Cancer Survivors Dinner hosted by the Cayman Islands Cancer Society.
With birthday cakes, balloons, celebratory hats for all to wear, glittery confetti, blowing bubbles and a clown, the gathering at the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel on Friday night, 14 June, had all the hallmarks of its theme – Happy Birthday.
There was also another treat – Everest climber Guy Manning gave the audience a detailed account of his climb up one of the tallest mountains in the world, complete with video and photographs of his adventure.
Mr. Manning’s Seven Summits challenge – to conquer the highest peaks on the seven continents – has raised more than $80,000 for the Cancer Society. He completed his climb of Everest, the fifth of his seven summits, on 20 May.
“When people first heard about me climbing Mount Everest, they called me various things – usually mad – but some did say ‘you’re brave to do this’. Well, I certainly did not think of myself as brave to try to climb Everest. I’d been climbing for 10 years to get the skills and experience I needed to try, so I could minimise the risks, but more importantly, it was my choice to take those risks on. No one was forcing me to do it.
“To my mind, real bravery lies in overcoming challenges you have not chosen to take on, that you just can’t avoid. For me, those challenges don’t come any tougher than cancer, so it’s an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to talk to all you brave men and women and kids in the audience tonight,” he said at Friday night’s party.
Close to home
He said that while he had no experience of overcoming cancer himself, his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer last year and had made a full recovery following a mastectomy.
“When it came to deciding a charity for my climb, the Cancer Society was just an obvious choice and I’ve been amazed by the reaction of the community. The funds are still coming in and at the last count, we were up to $80,000, partly the result of the generosity of our corporate sponsors… and also just the generosity of the individuals in our community, which really was rather overwhelming.”
His dark suit was accented by soft white slippers and bandages to protect his frostbitten feet. Mr. Manning, 39, told the survivors that there was a chance he may lose the tips of a couple of his toes, but that doctors were still monitoring if that would be necessary.
He described his epic climb, during which he battled not only the elements and the high altitude, but also illness, diarrhoea, frostbite and weight loss.
It culminated with reaching the summit after a steady but slow 16-hour climb and witnessing a beautiful sunrise over Tibet.
“I would be taking two to three steps and then literally bent double, hyperventilating for six to eight breaths to get my breathing back to normal and that process repeats itself. It took 11 hours to reach the summit. The entire way it’s like that.
“We made two brief stops to change oxygen bottles. It’s so cold that any food or water you have freezes, but even if they don’t, the ground is so steep that it’s basically impossible to stop and eat or drink anything. Going up and down took 16 hours and during that time, I had nothing to eat and two or three sips of water was all I could get down.
“It was an extremely tough night. All night I was absolutely convinced I was not going to make it to the top, I was so weakened. It was the longest night of my life. Eventually, as it always does of course, the dawn did come. By that point, I’d made it to the south summit and having been so negative all evening, I was convinced I was one or two hours from the top and at that point, nothing was going to stop me,” he said.
Every person who attended Friday night’s party was given an autographed photograph of Mr. Manning on the summit of Mount Everest, carrying the Cayman flag and a coded list of 56 cancer sufferers who are receiving financial support from the Cancer Society.
He signed the hundreds of photographs on Friday before the festivities kicked off, leading Jennifer Weber, operations manager of the Cancer Society to quip that not only did he have trouble with his frostbitten feet, now he had a sore hand from signing the autographs as well.
Dr. Sook Yin, medical director of the Cancer Society told the audience that Mr. Manning’s conquering of the Everest summit was similar to the battle and struggle that cancer survivors had been though.
“It brings tears to my eyes to know that he made a choice to do it, but when you’re diagnosed with cancer, you don’t have a choice, you just have to keep going, like how he did… It’s like from Base Camp 2 to Base Camp 3 describes the struggle of patients having chemotherapy, you can’t turn back, you’ve got to move forward and that’s what you did. And when you get to the summit, you see that bright sunrise that he saw – you’re just so glad it’s over, but look where you are now. Look how happy you are with your family. It’s like a great big birthday,” she said.
She urged all cancer survivors to register in the Cayman Islands Cancer Registry, which is building a database that will determine the prevalence of different types of cancers in Cayman.