No Mountain Too High: A Triumph Over Breast Cancer
High-altitude mountaineering is typically about conquest--pitting one's physical strength, endurance and courage against nature's most challenging conditions. When 17 survivors of breast cancer took on Argentina's Mt. Aconcagua, one of the seven summits in the world against which all serious climbers test their mettle, their motivations were more complex, however. Their assault on the mountain was a metaphor for vanquishing disease, specifically breast cancer. Gabbard (coauthor, Lou Whitaker: Memoirs of a Mountain Guide) joined Expedition Inspiration to cover the climb; her intimate portraits of each woman's struggle, with cancer and with the mountain, illuminate the group's loftier goals: to increase public awareness of the disease, to raise funds for research and to inspire unity among breast cancer victims. The women, ranging in age from 18 to 61, discuss the harsh choices they made between lumpectomies and mastectomies, radiation and chemotherapy, and they offer their thoughts on breast reconstruction. Many report loss of libido and disintegration of their intimate partner relationships, and all speak of the terror of recurrence. The January 1995 expedition required little actual technical expertise, and although there were difficulties (two and a half days spent tent-bound in a snowstorm at 16,000 ft., for instance), this is less the usual, dramatic assault-on-the-summit saga than a moving collection of recovery profiles that exalts these women's consciousness-raising goals over physical prowess or survival skills. Editor: Faith Conlon. (July) FYI: A portion of the profits of No Mountain Too High will be donated to breast cancer research.