Central Iowa Cancer Survivors Conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro, Find New Perspective on Life

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- It's not every day you set out to climb Africa’s tallest mountain, but a group of Iowans were up to the challenge. They aren't a typical group of mountain climbers, but rather cancer survivors

“It was by far the greatest physical challenge that I’ve ever endured. It was fulfilling emotionally, physically, and spiritually for me,” says Sonja Gonzales. “In my head I kept saying, 'one more step.'”

Gonzales was one of the 40 cancer survivors, patients, and caregivers who took on Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this month. She battled colorectal cancer and has now been cancer-free for six years.

The journey to the top of the mountain is a part of an organization called Above and Beyond Cancer. Its purpose is to challenge those impacted by cancer through mind, body, and spirit.

Two-time breast cancer survivor Christina Radke says, “So much during my cancer fight I stayed strong, I was ignoring the suffering, and this trip kind of made me realize it’s good for yourself to embrace that and deal with those emotions.”

The women say the climb often resembled their unpredictable fight with the disease but reminded them of their ability to conquer life’s major obstacles.

“It almost felt like a victory in the sense that I’m still fighting cancer. I think I'll forever fight cancer,” says Radke. "So the more I can do to challenge myself and to have those personal victories and those things that say 'I’m still alive and I’m here and I’m winning,' it was kind of that great feeling at the top.”

The mission was also a time for the group to give back. They traveled to Kenya to help beautify the country’s only public hospital, which treats cancer patients who do not have health insurance. Above and Beyond Cancer is also helping fund an extension of the hospital that will house visitors of cancer patients during their stay in the hospital.