Find your own Everest
It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
– Sir Edmund Hillary
At 9.30 am on 20 May 2011, Sharon and Allan Cohrs reached the summit of Mt Everest. In doing so, Sharon became the first breast cancer survivor in the world to achieve this, and together they became the first Australian-born couple.
In December 2007, as avid mountaineers, my husband and I were preparing to embark on our next adventure to climb the highest mountain in South America, Mt Aconcagua (6962m).
That was until I discovered a pea-sized lump in my left breast. After a mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy, I had a nervous two-day wait until I received the dreaded news, ‘You have breast cancer’.
My world was turned upside down in an instant. Instead of embarking on an amazing adventure, I was about to enter the frightening world of surgery and chemotherapy treatment. The next months were extremely tough. I was tossed into this unknown world of surgery and oncology visits. I had both breasts and lymph nodes removed and then started the dreaded chemotherapy. I took on my treatment like a climb, taking one small step at a time.
Even when I felt weak and sick, I would force myself to keep moving and stay positive. I was determined that I was going to beat this horrible disease.
Throughout my treatment, I dreamed of being in the mountains, relishing the peace and simplicity. I thought about how lucky I was to have a caring husband, great friends and a loving family. It is so easy to overlook or take for granted the good things we have in our life. I had been given a second chance, an opportunity to treat life as the precious gift it is. Mountaineering was such an important part of my life before cancer, and it was a passion I was determined to re-ignite.
I had posters of my favourite mountains plastered throughout the house while I was going through chemotherapy, giving me the drive and inspiration to get back to climbing. In 2009 I was told I was cancer free and after that Allan and I trained hard and made a lot of sacrifices. Along with the intense training, I set myself a challenging schedule, climbing four mountains in the lead-up to Mt Everest in less than two years.
It is incredible how far you can go when you focus and put your mind towards something. I got stronger, both physically and mentally, each time I returned to the Himalayas and climbed a more technical and difficult mountain. I developed confidence and an inner belief, knowing that if I put my mind and energy towards something, that anything was possible – even standing on top of the world.
For each of us, life has a different meaning or purpose, filled with our own individual aspirations and goals.
For some, being successful in business or staying fit and healthy is their major driving force. For others, fulfilling a life-long goal, travelling, or spending time with loved ones is what makes life special.
You never know what curve balls life is going to throw at you, and it is how you deal with them that define who you are. I am a stronger person since going through cancer, but have not changed who I am. I still love having a great time with my friends and family, and have learned to cherish those special moments.
I have a great sense of optimism and joy for life, and I believe in living.
I now focus my time on sharing my journey, from the lowest times to the finest moments, with people from around Australia, hopefully inspiring and sharing my knowledge that with a positive mind and attitude, people can achieve wonderful things and go on to find their own Everest, whatever it may be.
If you would like further information about Mt Everest and Sharon’s journey you can visit her website at www.climbingforacause.com.au.