Fighting cancer even when you don’t have it… meet a man on a mission to save the lives of women everywhere
Fundraiser Steve Ballard discusses his experience of surviving his wife’s fight with breast cancer and the people that inspired him to Climb to Fight Breast Cancer. Steve talks about his role in raising the necessary resources to end the unnecessary suffering for victims and families impacted by cancer.
Interviewer: So you said this is your first experience with Fred Hutch’s Climb to Fight Breast Cancer. How did first come across this organization?
Steve: Well, my wife was diagnosed with cancer two years ago in September. We had really fantastic doctors and specialists. I mean, just amazing doctors that really looked out for her in a very personal manner. After we got to a point where we thought we were kind of out of the woods, we knew what our journey was going to be, and I really felt it was important to pay it forward by becoming fundraisers.
Plus, I love to be outside. I love to hike and I love to climb. So I just Googled it. I thought, “There’s got to be something where you could do something for breast cancer research, and you can also go climbing.”
So I just started looking around and I came across this place. Climbs are held locally and it’s an hour and a half from where I live. So it all kind of worked out.
Become part of our mountain climbing community
Steve: They’re absolutely fantastic even though this is the first charity climb that I’ve ever done. Everybody you work with, in terms of getting involved, have been great. Right after I signed up for the climb, the event folks reached out to me just to say “Welcome and thank you.” It’s a lot of motivation when you decide to participate that actually makes you want to come back and do another climb. I’m going to try to do Rainier next year, actually. That’s my goal.
Creative Fundraising Ideas
Interviewer: That’s cool. So will you do your own fundraising in order to make that Mt. Rainier climb?
Steve: Yes, I will.
Interviewer: What kind of techniques are you using to raise funds from either your local community or your social circles?
Steve: Everything that I raised in the past came from friends and family, and actually a couple of the doctors that we know. And my wife actually contributed as well. So I didn’t seek out any kind of corporate fundraising. I come from a big Irish family, so there’s a lot of people we could reach out to, and that’s what we did. I should have you read my page, because we really put a lot of effort into it.
Interviewer: Your Facebook page?
Steve: No, I created a climbing web page where I told the story of everything that happened during my wife’s battle with cancer, and it seems to really resonate with folks. Then I go and update my page every couple weeks or so. I’ve been busy training and getting ready for the climb, so that gives me more of a story to tell people about what’s going on with us.
My entire family reads it and it kind of encourages people to go out and contribute a little bit more. It’s actually amazing because in the last two or three weeks, I’ve actually raised a great deal of money. I hit my goal back in January. But we’ve just kind of kept pushing through it, and I think as of today, I’m real close to raising $3,700.
Thinking Outside The Box
Interviewer: I like it. That’s awesome. So at my company we do a lot of technology development, and a lot of marketing efforts. Is there anything that we can do for you to make it easier in the fundraising process; things such as education, widgets, or tech gadgets?
Steve: One of the things that I wanted to do was to include a business card when I send out Christmas cards, because we’ve got a big family. The card would include the address to my web page. But I couldn’t find anything in the resource guide where I could print out business cards. So I think, if there’s a way to put a link to a business card resource like that on the climbers’ page, it would be really useful.
Because that’s what I ended up doing on my own. I just kind of made my own and put them in with my Christmas cards, so it was another way to remind people. It’s a good time of year to ask people to support the cause. I think that would really work because I’m not the kind of person who likes to go and ask people for money. That’s really hard for me to do.
So that’s sort of a non-pressure way to raise money without calling people up or constantly sending them an email. Just stick it in the greeting card at Christmas time. Like I said, that’s usually the season when a lot of people handle their annual charity donations.
Starting Snow School
Interviewer: So this is your first time with this organization and this is your first time on Mt. Hood. Can you tell us about the snow school? Was that an educational process for you? Was that a challenge? Are you feeling better after taking the class?
Steve: I haven’t taken snow school before, per say, but I’ve been in a couple of climbing schools because I’ve done a couple of other climbs.
There’s a buddy of mine that and we’ve done some other hikes together. But this is the first time we’ve ever done anything that’s specifically snow school. It was great. I mean, I think it’s tailored around the right mix of people, because obviously you’ve got some folks who have done all kinds of stuff.
But I think it kind of hits the middle spot between folks that are new to this and those who are more experienced. I’ve seen this before where you go to other places where, if folks are experienced, they might shrug their shoulders or kind of look down on those who are somewhat new. It can be kind of intimidating for beginners.
But you know I never saw any of that kind of thing with the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer group. Everybody really bonded, and everyone was helping each other out. Lots of great tips were being passed back and forth. So, yeah, the snow school is great. It really is.
Interviewer: So Steve, can you please share what truly motivated you to participate in the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer?
Steve: Well everyone from the radiologists to the surgeons to the plastic surgeons and the nurses inspired me to participate. I have never before seen the level of care or understanding they provided. Again, what was most important to my decision is that I felt a need to pay it forward, because I’m sure that not everyone has the same positive outcome we did.
The main point is simply to raise awareness while you’re raising funds. One of the things I read on the website was about the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and some of the fantastic things they’ve done. They have three Nobel Laureates, I think. They started with bone marrow, then transplants and they’ve pioneered a lot of new breast cancer treatments. I mean there’s just some really incredible stuff.
From a personal standpoint, I was reading about the guy, Fred Hutchinson, who the Center is named after. I think it was his brother who actually started it in his name, because his brother died of cancer. I mean it kind of hit close to home, and I put that in one of my blogs.
But to answer your question, raising more money is a way to make sure that we can find a way to get rid of this disease, because it’s awful. Secondly, we need to support more doctors and nurses and radiologists like the ones that we met. If my efforts helps to get that done, even if that’s just through awareness, so be it.
Mt Shasta Charity Expedition Logistics
Elevation: 14,179 feet
Guide Service: Shasta Mountain Guides (SMG)
Minimum Fundraising Total: $3,000.00
Mt Shasta is the second highest volcano in the United States, and its base is more than 17 miles in diameter. Considered a major peak of the Cascade mountain range, this magnificent mountain lures people from all over the world as a premier climbing destination. In northern California, this beautiful mountain rises high above the rugged peaks around it to provide climbers with breathtaking views. Eight superb glaciers, California’s largest, adorn its flanks and are complemented by splendid meadows of wildflowers, groves of Shasta Red Firs and numerous mystical legends. We climb the Avalanche Gulch route which is considered non-technical, so climbing Shasta is within reach for any individual who is physically fit, mentally prepared and determined to adapt his or her skills to the varied environment.
In the best interest of personal safety, success and team compatibility, adequate training is required. Climbers must be able to carry an average of 45 pounds or more and be not only physically but also mentally prepared to deal with strenuous situations.
Tents Equipment and Meals
Provided: All group climbing equipment: climbing ropes and technical hardware, meals and tents.
Not provided: Personal equipment. You are responsible for all items on the gear list. Transportation is not provided for this climb. Climbers will need to provide their own transportation to the trailhead.
Mt Shasta Climb Itinerary
Below is an itinerary for the 3-day John Muir/Avalanche Gulch Route mountaineering climb. Please keep in mind that the projected itinerary and route starting at the Bunny Flat trailhead may vary due to weather and climbing conditions.
Day 1: Meet guides and group at the Fifth Season outdoor store located at 300 N. Mt. Shasta Blvd. Please be punctual to allow time for gear rentals, packing, and a group briefing with your guides. Please note: your guides will do a thorough gear check and pass out group gear before you pack your backpacks. In addition, we recommend that you reserve your rental equipment through the Fifth Season.
Drive to the Bunny Flat trailhead (6950 feet) for a group briefing and start the approach to base camp at Horse Camp (8000 feet). Depending on weather and trail conditions, the moderate/ low angle approach to base camp may take anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours.
Snow School: Topics covered include fundamental climbing techniques, ice axe and crampon use, team rope travel, and team arrest.
Day 2: We will hike to approximately 10,000 feet and set up our high camp near Lake Helen. Weather permitting, we will continue with an additional skills session.
Day 3: Summit Climb and return
Mt Shasta Climb Gear List
Below is a comprehensive clothing and equipment list for our 2-4 day summit climbs. For your safety and comfort, please follow these guidelines diligently. Every item on the list is required. Weather extremes may range from 0 degrees F to 70 degrees F. Versatility is the key to dressing properly, and layering allows you to do this efficiently. To avoid overburdening yourself with extra weight, bring only that which is necessary. Locally rentable items are marked with an *. Contact The Fifth Season at 530-926-3606.
If you have questions about what to bring, leave behind, or equipment in general, please call or e-mail us. In addition, The Fifth Season outdoor store in Mt. Shasta is staffed with experienced outdoor enthusiasts who are well versed in the latest equipment available, and can provide sound advice on purchase and rental information.
- Mountaineering boots*: Plastic or Leather. Must be crampon compatible. Hiking or backpacking boots are not adequate.
- Crampons* Suggest: Black Diamond Contact
- Ice axe* Suggest: Black Diamond Raven Pro
- Climbing Helmet*
- Expedition backpack*: 5,000 cubic inch, internal frameSleeping bag*: Synthetic or down, rated to 20 degrees F minimum
- Sleeping pad*: Thermarest or closed cell foam pad
- 1 locking carabiner: Suggest: Black Diamond Miniparabiner
- 2 pair Hiking Socks: Wool or Synthetic lightweight
- Underwear: Briefs & Bras must be synthetic material
- Base Layer Bottom: Patagonia Capilene, wool or other synthetic
- Base Layer top: Capilene, wool or other synthetic
- Light or medium weight sweater: Fleece or wool
- Water-resistant shell pants: Hard or soft shell, leg zips helpful
- Water resistant shell parka: gore-tex or similar type, non insulated
- Insulated Jacket: Required: Down or synthetic fill
- Gaiters*: Mid-calf
- Fleece or Wool hat: warm & covers ears
- Brimmed Sun Hat: Cap or other
- Shorts: Late spring and summer
- Lightweight Liner Gloves. Soft shell or fleece
- Insulated Gloves: Waterproof ski or mountaineering style
- Water bottles: 2-3 Nalgene (other types tend to freeze and break)
- Eating utensils: Cup, bowl, spoon only
- Headlamp with fresh batteries
- Sunglasses: glacier type with side protection ~ important
- Sunscreen and lip protection: 25 SPF minimum
- Personal kit: Small quantity of toilet paper and towelettes, toothbrush, blister kit, matches/lighter, pocket knife, etc
- Light accessory cord: 10-20 feet (for broken shoelaces, etc.)
- 1 large garbage sack
- Snacks: Food for climb days. Variety of small portions of fats, sweets, carbs, and proteins
- Trekking/ski poles*: Highly recommended for approach hike
- Camera: Optional, but well worth bringing
- Camp shoes or booties: Teva type sandals or light sneakers, booties for winter and spring use
As too many of us know, cancer cells love to create havoc. A friend of mine recently said the cancer cells will fight to survive and try to outlive everything else in their way. Essentially, it is a fight to the death. This isn’t so far off from the truth. The game is to outplay, outwit and outlast them. It is the other game of Survivor but in your body—not on a deserted island somewhere.
Cancer treatment is similar to the Hunger Games books and movie series. For those not in the know, the Hunger Games is about a country that keeps its civilians in the non-revolutionary mode by drawing names of a boy and a girl, ages 12 to 18, from each of the districts within the city to fight in a duel to the death. Yes, children. They are trained to fight, they go to a location that is essentially like being on a movie set with all sorts of special effects, is televised to the public and do indeed fight to the death with one survivor left. It does sound wild, and it is wild and shows how people will use their power to do evil as opposed to good. The goal of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery (which at times seems like evil); is to create the one survivor: The patient. Cancer cells are smart, much like Katniss in the movie. She was able to outplay the game, and win with her smart mind, keen eye and sharpshooting skills with a bow and arrow. The job of researchers is to outwit the cancer cells, but those cells keep getting smarter, creating the need for deviations from the plan.
My friend is alive today because research has developed new methods of treatment and new medications. She is outliving, outwitting and outlasting the cancer cells in her body. My cousin, Robin, was not so fortunate. A mere 5 years were between Robin’s diagnosis and my friend’s diagnosis and look what the difference in time has created. A CT scan that once lit up like a Christmas tree is now dark and quiet because of the compassionate use of a new therapy that my friend received. That therapy was not available a mere 3-4 years ago.
A new lease on life, priceless.
An annual resolution to lose weight is boring. So is a pledge to “get in shape” or to “feel better about yourself”. This year, what if you created an experience so memorable it changes you. A memory so strong it changes your thinking and your body.
When I signed up for the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer I had never hiked, never trained and certainly never climbed an ice-covered, glaciered mountain. I’d admired Mt. Rainier the way almost everyone does – from afar. The CLIMB changed all that.
Climbing a mountain to help save people’s lives is a simple concept, but not an easy undertaking. It will require time, discipline, training and patience. Select a mountain peak near, out of state or overseas. You solicit donations for pioneering cancer research at the Hutch. Donors are generous when they know we are undertaking a physical task to highlight the cures of tomorrow. A sure fire way to collect donations? Offer a prospective donor the option of joining you on the climb, or writing a check.
Watching the sunrise from the summit of a mountain is life changing. So is the experience of getting there. When the wind pinches my nose, or the upward steps seem endless, I remember the heroes we’re helping. I imagine the infinite number of uphill steps taken by Don Thomas as he risked everything to pioneer the bone marrow transplant. Thousands of people walk among us today because he lived. I think of hearing Dr. Jean Sanders describe the first time one of her pediatric patients walked out of the hospital and into their new life, after so many patients before hadn’t made it. I think of Dr. William Hutchinson, honoring his brother, Fred, with a legacy that has saved thousands from suffering as Fred did. At the time of his death in 1997, after a long life, a Seattle Times editorial stated that his legacy would be his battle plan for cancer research, which was one patient, one study, one step at a time. The metaphor for cancer research and mountains was cast long before the CLIMB was born.
As an avid outdoorsman himself, he would’ve embraced the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.
This year, how about joining a movement that embodies bravery and encourages perseverance. The CLIMB celebrates the footsteps both in front of and behind us. It will change your life and help save others. Oh, and you’ll lose weight, get in shape and feel better about yourself.
Mt Baker Charity Expedition Logistics
Elevation: 10, 781 feet
Guide Service: Alpine Ascents International
Minimum Fundraising Total: $3,000
Dates: July 25-27, 2014
Mt Baker, the highest point of the North Cascades, is a heavily glaciated dormant volcano. The 12 active glaciers of Mt Baker cover an area exceeding 20 square miles. Mt Baker is unique with respect to its great mass of snow and ice and its easy accessibility (requires less than one day of hiking). This combination creates a perfect alpine training ground and a great introduction to mountaineering. This climb of the ice-king of the North Cascades via some of the largest and most scenic glaciers in the contiguous United States will be conducted by our experienced guides and is bound to be an unforgettable adventure.
Climbing skill level
This climb is open to any physically fit, enthusiastic novice, beginner or advanced beginner. One day of training is included in the climb. Prior experience with backpacking and camping is required.
Physical conditioning: 60 pound pack
In the best interest of personal safety, success and team compatibility, adequate training and excellent physical condition are required. Climbers must be able to carry an average of 60 pounds or more. Climbers need to be in excellent physical condition for both personal enjoyment and team safety. We encourage you to contact Alpine Ascents so that they can assist you in developing a training program that meets your particular needs.
Tents, Equipment and Meals
Provided: All group climbing equipment: climbing ropes and technical hardware; meals and tents.
Not provided: Personal equipment. You are responsible for all items on the gear list. Transportation is not provided for this climb. Climbers will need to provide their own transportation to the trailhead.
Note: If you are a beginning climber, we strongly advise renting as much gear as possible. Specialty outdoor equipment can be quite expensive. Alpine Ascents and other local retailers provide quality rental equipment at reasonable prices. Other personal items are available through local outdoor stores.
Mt Baker Climb Itinerary
Climbers are required to arrive in Seattle the afternoon before our trip begins. A mandatory gear check is performed on this day. A thorough gear check ensures everyone is fully equipped and prepared to depart the next morning. Rental gear is fitted and packed at this time.
Location: Alpine Ascents International Office, Seattle Duration: Approximately 2 hours
A guide and our gear manager will give you an overview of the climb, answer all your questions and make sure you have all the necessary equipment or rental gear.
What to bring: Please bring your pack fully loaded with all required items from the gear list.
Day 1: Most of the day is spent on the moderately strenuous approach, as we hike from 3,400 feet in subalpine meadows. Climbing continues through forest, high alpine meadows and seasonal snow-covered regions to high camp, spectacularly situated beneath the Easton glacier, just under 7,000 feet. Views from this elevation are both expansive and stunning.
Day 2: Snow skills. Alpine Ascents covers basic snow skills, proper stepkicking, use of ice axe, self-arrest, walking/climbing in crampons and rope techniques for our heavily crevassed glacier climb.
Day 3: Summit day. To ensure safety and optimal traveling conditions, Alpine Ascents will begin the climb early to reach the summit by dawn. The route takes us to approximately 9,800 feet where we reach the crater rim and look deep into the steaming center of Mt Baker. After a brief rest, we head up along the crater rim to the summit. At a moderate pace, the summit climb should take five to eight hours. Clear weather offers an awe-inspiring 360-degree view from this most magnificent North Cascades summit.
Mt Baker Climb Gear List
For a current list of required gear, please visit http://www.alpineascents.com/baker-climb-g.asp.
I’ve never made one. I’ve never planned my experiences; I’ve blissfully relied on happenstance. When opportunity arrives, hold on tight. I admire the organized dreamers who sign up for the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer wanting to check Mt. Rainier or Mt. Kilimanjaro off their bucket list. I’m impressed by anyone who has one.
I climbed Mt. Baker in 2002 after a dear friend and cancer survivor suggested I sign up. I’ve been back nearly every year and always think of her when choosing my annual mountain peak. This year it’s a big one. There will be more to come on that.
Between work, errands, Crossfit and removing my very dry Christmas tree, I came up with a few bucket list items of my own. When I think about it, it’s the small things I never get to, that inspire me. There are endless far away places I long to explore, but the paradises close to home are paramount.
- Climb Mt. Hood (11,237 ft) – I’ve stood on top before. It’s been a few years since the stars have lined up for me. I’d like to be on the summit of Mt. Hood on June 15 with the first Climb to Fight Breast Cancer team this season.
- Snow camp at Reflection Lake – It’s a place hundreds of people visit each season in Mt. Rainier National Park. This year I hope to be one of them.
- Hike the Wonderland Trail (the 93 miles that encircle Mt. Rainier) – I’ll take it anyway I can get it, solo or alongside friends. You call me and I’ll be there.
- Visit Acadia National Park, Maine – I dream about watching the sun rise over America.
- Summit Mt. Shasta (14,179 ft) – My first Memorial Day attempt was accompanied by high winds and a foot of snow dropping on my tent. I’d like to try again this summer.
- The Enchantments (Eastern Washington) – Sigh. This trek has been on my mind for a few years.
After I came up with the travel log bucket list, I thought about some real memories I’d prefer not to miss.
- Every family moment I can imagine; graduations, birthdays, and all the “firsts” that come along with those.
- Prom dress shopping with my niece. She lost her mother to stage 4 colon cancer and I promise to be there for her.
- Endless hours of belly laughs with my bestie.
- Time spent watching the wild life in my own back yard (Blue Heron, deer, coyotes, birds and spawning salmon).
- Continuing to support the life-saving research I get to witness at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
That’s a pretty good start, right? The New Year is promising. It’s about hope for the future, forgiveness for the past, and anticipation of the windy trails ahead.
Climb a Mountain. Save a Life.